22 September 1933 – 31 October 1934
Editor’s Note: In these years Desmond Greaves was living with his father, Charles Edward Greaves, his mother Amy Elisabeth Greaves (née Taylor), and his sister Phyllis at 124 Mount Road, Birkenhead, on the Wirral Peninsula across the River Mersey from Liverpool, England. This was a newly built, three-bedroom, semi-detached, comfortable house with a sizeable garden, situated at a cross-roads in the Birkenhead suburb of Prenton. The family had moved there two years before from 7A, Rockville Street, Rock Ferry, a mile or so away, a much older house [still standing in 2020], where Desmond Greaves had been born on 27 September 1913. At the time the journal begins Greaves was in the third year of the undergraduate BSc in botany and chemistry at the University of Liverpool, and to get to the university he used to cross the Mersey regularly on the Woodside ferry, going to and fro on his bicycle.
Fifty years later Greaves copied the three volumes of his Journals for 1933-1935 in black ink, with an explanatory commentary inserted in red. He presumably did this for the benefit of a biographer. The latter insertions are indicated in bold typeface in this electronic edition. He also pasted some photographs of himself as a young man near to the dates they relate to in the hardback copybooks of the manuscript Journal.
The Journal uses abbreviations for most proper names, and Greaves’s later commentary gives the full names in most cases, with a few omissions. In this edition the full names have been substituted for these abbreviations wherever possible, except in the case of Greaves’s father, Charles Edward Greaves, who is referred to throughout by his initials, and his mother, Amy Elisabeth Taylor, who is referred to by the initials of her married name, AEG.
This volume begins a few days before Greaves’s 20th birthday on 27 September 1933. It is clear from the entry for 1 June 1934 that he had kept a journal during his teenage years, amounting to several thousand pages, which he destroyed.
* * *
Themes: Student days as a third year undergraduate taking botany and chemistry at Liverpool University: His wide range of reading; poetry; chess; botany; politics; cycle trips; companions –“As to the problems of the day, my everlasting one is to comprehend the whole of my interests in one unity”(entry for 2 Nov.1933) – Interacting with staff and students of his former secondary grammar school, Birkenhead Institute – Writing an article for the school magazine on the First World War poet Wilfred Owen, a former pupil – Corresponds with a French woman pen-pal – Staff conflicts in the University Botany Department – His dislike of practical laboratory work – Friendship with Alan Morton (later Professor Alan G.Morton, author of “History of Botanical Science”,1988) – Political interests and joining the CPGB, “the only anti-imperial and anti-Partition party”: “I took to politics like a duck to water” –Obtaining the BSc and staying on for a fourth year at the university by undertaking a dissertation in the Honours School – Attending the Youth Anti-War Conference in Sheffield in August 1934: “What repelled me was the profound sectarianism” – Summer holiday visit to his aunt in Portsmouth – Cycling in Wales and seeing the poverty of the Taff Vale mining villages
September 22 Friday (Birkenhead/Liverpool): I may observe that I have had an awkward pain on the left side of my chest, just above the heart. I am thinking of being “overhauled” by a doctor. I walked to Thurstaston to see the havoc wrought by the great fire whose smoke I saw from Lever’s Causeway on Sunday. I took the bus back. Later I called on P. He had just come from Chester. Brownless père and wife and daughter had called in the morning, also Hdy and As! – to say goodbye. As soon as they had gone P. hastily changed his clothes, spruced up his toilet and went post haste to Rock Ferry. The parents had gone to Woodside, but this way he found Miss Brownless in her carriage without anybody being the wiser. He accompanied her to Chester, spending so much money for the sake of 15 minutes of her company.
“Well,” said P., “it was interesting last night to be the centre of a function in one’s honour. It may be the only time I’ll have the experience.” By now Keats was present. He did not move a muscle, but I said, “There are such things as weddings.”
“No, you fat-head,” said P., “I didn’t mean that.”
“It was a logical conclusion.”
“Besides, you wanted me to say that so that you could say ‘No’.”
“Hm! Well, yes! Hm – Very well thought out! After a minute I see you’re right.”
P. has tried that trick at least a dozen times. He asked me if I thought he was a fool. I replied, “by no means”.
Then I called on Lu. to see if he was the unknown visitor who called when I was in bed, ill, on Tuesday night. He was not. Hains is soon to have a message for me. Allison said to him, “I see your friend Greaves is mentioned in a paper.” He must subscribe toPoetry Review. Then I made an arrangement with Lu. to cycle to Oswestry.
GWD called in the evening. P. had said GWD was in love with Miss Cholmondely.
“She doesn’t exactly object to me.”
“Or you to her?”
” No. Or me to her.
“Are you in love with her?”
“Well, at least with neither of the other two. They both hate me to mention Dilys Evans, but always ask me about her, about the first thing each night. They say, ‘Have you seen Dilys?’ and are mad if I have. Phyllis told me that if I ever fell in love with anyone she prayed it would not be Dilys!”
P. – John Piggott. Son of the Chairman of the Cheshire Lines Committee which ran trams from Liverpool Central to Manchester. He regarded himself as Irish but can’t have been much in Ireland. Old Piggott was a very decent man, Piggott the younger, rather prim and proper. He was at the University at the time, a year older than I, and presumably the function was his 21st birthday party. I do not recall being present at it, but may have been. He constructed one of the first television sets in Britain around this time. He was a student of physics and could have done well, but didn’t.
Lu. – Lunn. A young fellow I used to go cycling with.
GWD – George William Dentith Wright. He was at school with me, and was brought into my class though a year older. I was very displeased at being displaced as No.1 and think this was the reason I for once did badly in the Xmas terminals of 1926. Though it may also have been disappointment at not getting the bicycle I had been promised. CEG [his father] lent the money charitably, but I did not appreciate it. The Phyllis will be Phyllis Mercer, born in Belfast, when the Mercers were in the Labour movement there. Dilys Evans I only vaguely remember. She was a friend of Hains, who ran the school magazine. I had published a poem in Poetry Review [“Peredur’s Tree”, carried in the July 1933 issue]. Allison, one of the few of the teachers with brains, taught Geography. Her young brother Iver (IM) used to visit me.
Hdy. – John Alexander Halliday – Considered himself a Scot. At this time he was a strong conservative. Keats I cannot remember at all.
September 23 Saturday: Halliday called in the morning. He had seen DM. last night. That person had been very annoyed when his trying to draw me out about “Peredure’s Tree” failed ignominiously [published in the “Poetry Review”, July-August 1933, p.261]. I had acted so well that he made another journey to the Picton Library to confirm that I was the author. “So he still takes an interest in you.” I was prevailed upon by his importunacy to show him Alan Morton’s poems. He pretended to understand, but threw out such inept comments that it would be hard to be deceived into thinking that he knew the first thing about poetry. I showed him H’s. “Stop me and buy one,” out of an illogical desire to spite H. for letting me see through him.
I called on Lunn in the afternoon and we cycled through Chester and Wrexham to Rhostyllen. But it rained and after climbing a slag-heap at Hafod we came back. The trees are very green but it is turning cold.
I have decided to work on short stories. I would never sell a novel. I am reading Dostoevsky’s Possessed. It is very interesting.
DM. – Donald Magee. His father, from the North of Ireland, had been killed, at sea I think, during the 1914-18 war. He got some kind of scholarship out of it. He had been quite a friend of mine at school. We cycled to London together in 1931, but fell out. Or it may have been 1932. I remember we camped at Stratford-on-Avon and again at Staines. He was at this time at the University, reading English. Later like Piggott he joined the Army Educational service. I don’t think either of them passed their exams. One of the things that came between us was Magee’s addiction to Jazz. He used to hold saxophone sessions in his grandmother’s house. His mother, a very decent woman, was a stewardess for some shipping line.
H. – Alan Searle Hodge. When I crossed on the Woodside Ferry I often used to see a Collegiate School “sixth former”. We were both at a lecture on Blake given by that ass Middleton Murry. After that we used to talk when we met. Later he went to Oxford. At that time his consuming passion was poetry. He especially revered Robert Graves, and later joined him in Majorca.
September 24 Sunday: There was a miserable drizzle and an ugly sky. Piggott called for a talk. A card from Ms. had come asking me to visit him on Tuesday morning, and Piggott wants me to meet CM’s sister that day evening.
September 25 Monday: In the morning I went to the Library. On the ‘bus there were two girls who, from their conversation, were on the stage. One had been thrown out of work by the fire at the Royal Court. She was going to try for the “dole”. The other advised her to go to every theatre in Liverpool and refuse to go until she had seen the manager. Later George Wright came. We walked out to Thornton Hough with Hodge. While we were out Lunn called. I wrote a poem in the evening.
September 26 Tuesday: In the morning I visited Ms. as requested. He said that Gn2 was too much alone and that Gn. was too given to spreading his interests in every direction. Gn. was disgusted at the apathy of our Liverpool Botanical Society members. He showed me the results of his latest experiments, which seem to vindicate his theories. He will explain them at the December meeting.
In the evening I called on Piggott and met Miss Moat. But surprisingly Piggott intimated that he had another engagement with Wk., who had called, and what is more seemed in a rare fever about it. Wk. came in and stood impatient and awkward while Keats and I chatted with Miss Moat. She is a retired teacher. She made conversation, such as “We live in a very nice place,” then describing it. Wk. struck me as a jaded and ill-favoured specimen, not averse to somewhat coarse humour (not pleasing to the prudish Piggott). As the two of them left Wk. was urging Piggott to organise another dance.
I went for a walk with Keats and to my astonishment he proved quite interesting. He lives in a well-cultured socialist atmosphere, and has a far more definite grasp of politics and economics than, for instance, Piggott or Donald Magee. I was agreeably surprised. He has tried composing but “very light” material, and his school work completely ousted his musical studies.
When I reached home Phyllis [Greaves’s sister] and VeW. had returned from Leebotwood, Salop, feeling very hungry and somewhat ill-humoured.
Ms. must have been Mr Marsh, who developed most remarkable skill in pressing flowers and retaining perfect colours. Professor McLean Thompson [Head of the Botany Department at the University] used to complain that he treated his work as an art and did not know why he got his results. “But I get them,” he would reply. Gn. (Green) was secretary of the Liverpool Botanical Society. I had submitted some kind of exhibit at the annual Soirée of the Joint Learned Societies of Liverpool and District. I think Marsbridge used to be there, so there must have been a WEA [Workers’ Education Association] influence. Green used to attend to pick up likely new members and I joined as a junior member at the age of 15. The two Green brothers were bachelors living in Woodley. It was there I was introduced to microscopy, later buying my own microscope. The brothers had brought up Alwyn, a nephew whose parents had died. They put him through an agricultural college, and went to live on the farm he either leased or purchased somewhere beyond Ness.
Green 2, treasurer, was employed in insurance. He took his employer out to see the farm. The employer dismissed him. Green had told him not to allow the employer to see that he was “not penniless”. But he could not see the danger. I used to go to see him – working on the farm for his keep and 5/- a week all spent on cigarettes. He was very disconsolate.
Miss Moat was the sister of Charles Moat, my first French teacher, a native of Sheringham. He ran the school chess club in which I was very active and in my student days used to go to his house for a game. He had some colourful expletives for pupils who did not come up to standard: “You blithering idiot! You flabby rotter! You feeble crock!” He used to have me simultaneously terrified and bursting with laughter I was trying desperately to contain.
VeW, Vera Ward, a friend of my sister’s – and one who lived up to the tinker traditions of the name, wildness personified!
September 27 Wednesday: In the morning of this notable anniversary, which I forgot till midday [ie. his birthday] I went to see LB. He showed me some poetry that was utter muck. One ‘poem’ expressed his intention of praising his gods and ‘leading’ mankind. In the afternoon GE. called and while we were out walking, Halliday came. We met Donald Magee with Ev2. In the evening CEG and I exchanged compliments on our common birthday. He is 50. I am 20. As some members of CEG’s choir were coming for a rehearsal, I went to GE’s to listen to the Bach promenade concert. I played the piano for GE’s parents. The jubilation was in full swing when I returned, but Phyllis was in disgrace. CEG had compacted with her that she should eat only one caramel so that some would be left for the singers [Charles Greaves was a choral conductor]. Just before these were to be distributed a loud bang startled everybody. In surreptitiously helping herself to another she had knocked something over and broken a 100 watt lamp. She was definitely out of favour.
LB. – Lawrence Batty. I met him at the Joint Liverpool Learned Societies soirée where he submitted a project on cloud forms. Had he left school in 1933? Probably not. He had suffered a serious illness from which he recovered contrary to medical prognostications. His mother claimed he was cured by faith and embraced Christian Science. She had been a teacher and completely dominated him. I occasionally went a walk with him and on one such I challenged him, “Do you really believe that the house that you are walking back to is only there because you believe it is there, and that it might not be there if you lost your memory?” He said he did. His illness left its mark on him and I should not have been so impatient.
GE. – George Evans, was a different kettle of fish, a lively intelligent youngster still at school. I think I met him at the Joint Learned Societies’ soirées and for a time he was a member of the Liverpool Botanical Society. His family were musical Welsh people.
The choir referred to may be the members of CEG’s “Madrigal Society” that used to come to the house periodically to sing Elizabethan music.
September 28 Thursday: I saw George Evan for a few minutes at midday. In the afternoon Lawrence Batty called bringing a friend whom he thought a musical genius, but who, I thought, treated the non-genius very contemptuously and referred to him as “this fellow”. He seemed to have his share of swelled head. His name was Lionel Lethbridge.
Halliday called and said that Westmore will probably be at the University next year. Donald Magee and Rs. are constructing a ‘railway line’ in Magee’s backyard, on a very small scale, perhaps to amuse the young fellow Evans 2. He has complained to Piggott about these dances and suggested that he is taking Magee away from his work.
Westmore, then about 19, lived in the Wiend [across from the Greaves home at 124 Mount Rd., Birkenhead] and was a friend of Edge’s. Rs., Richardson, lived in Borough Road, an easy-going harmless young fellow who for some reason had the nickname “Fish”.
September 29 Friday: I went to the University to look at the new temporary union. I met Jk. and Ck. later. In the afternoon I called on Lawrence Batty for a short time. He told me that his friend’s parents are excessively strict, but are agreeable to his becoming a church organist, have pupils, conduct and perhaps compose. I am afraid he will not have full pockets.
When George Wright called he told me that DJW whom he met said that Ck. could have had a scholarship if he had not spent so much time pursuing the ladies. The same applied to Piggott. We met Alan Hodge rolling along King’s Road on his bicycle. “He never stops to talk to us,” said George Wright, “Perhaps he has got inspiration.”
We listened to Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in the evening, and some Haydn from Hilversum, finally Handel’s “See the Conquering Hero Comes” , which CEG said he used to play as a boy whenever he felt miserable. He brought two tickets given him by Rushworth and Draper’s man, for a demonstration of a “Neo-Bechstein” thing which is a piano, wireless set, synchronised with a pianola, a gramophone, a spinet and a pseudo-organ. It just manages not to be a motor-car as well. I am to use the tickets as CEG is not interested.
The new union was housed in what had been “Ridge’s cow-shed”, the department of architecture. Jk.–Jackson – had been at school with me and was reading biochemistry. He was an able intelligent fellow. I later knew him in London and Portsmouth. Ck. – Clarkson – was a friend of Piggott’s and no doubt went to the dances, where Donald Magee provided the music. DJW was a teacher at the school, a young fellow in his twenties. It would be CEG [ie. his father], not George Wright, who listened to the symphony.
September 30 Saturday: In the morning Halliday called unexpectedly. He has looked over the wall at Donald Magee’s toy railway. It is supported on stakes two feet high and painted green. There is no provision against rust. It was really a nuisance that Halliday should call this morning. In the afternoon I went to a Botanical Society meeting at Burton. Green entertained us to tea. Mr Marsh, Green 2, Miss Millner-Brown, Mr Chester and others were there. Miss Millner-Browne was as talkative as ever. She knows Alan Morton, who likes her. Green was protesting at the barbarity of a thatched roof stuck on a “villa residence”. Miss Millner-Brown who had not been listening, cried out, “What a divine thatched house!” She thinks modern poetry is so much more “intelligent” than that of former years. “If Beethoven had lived today he would have composed much better music.” This was her illustration! She was informed of the danger of war and the way the armament firms operate. “Of course, it’s very disgusting and filthy, but people will grow saner. They are growing saner. It was pointed out that League of Nation’s membership is falling rapidly. The optimist was shaken. Of course it does little good to support the League, but while people desire peace sufficiently intensely to be deceived by it, there is still hope.
Miss Millner-Brown was extremely well-to-do. She would be in her twenties at this time. Her father was the picture of a “bloated capitalist”, and was, I think, in shipping. “After all,” she said on one occasion, “things are changing so much these days. Quite poor people are coming to universities.”
October 1 Sunday: In the early afternoon I called on Edge. He had gone to see Westmore in the Wiend. I came home, played the piano for half an hour, then rode out on my bicycle and met him with Gth. and a booby. He said he had called for me yesterday. This was later confirmed by Phyllis. Goodness knows how many people call that I never hear about. It was he who called on the night I was ill. I congratulated him on winning the borough scholarship to Cambridge. His sister had told me of it. Later I went for a walk with Evans.
I have the reverberations of a Bach Cantata running through my head all the time. It is No.140, “Sleepers Awake”. What I enjoy are Bach’s funny little melodies, each with a tail attached to suit the counterpoint, wriggling about above the ground bass.
Gt. – Guthrie – was Edge’s cousin. Who the ‘booby’ was I can’t conjecture.
October 2 Monday: I was told something amusing by George Evans. He overheard E.Wynne Hughes talking to Hains. They were discussing my poem. “He’s going to let us publish it,” said Hughes,” and he’s kindly pointed out about this other old boy.” “And there they were,” said Evans “with faces as serious and long as a sermon. I knew what they were talking about. Hughes whispered but Hains talked high and loud so that everybody would know what important business they were engaged in. You’d think it was Bernard Shaw that was allowing them to publish.”
I read some chapters of an interesting book about the Aegean civilisation. The theory that variety of scenery and alternation of intercourse leads to a highly developed civilisation interested me. I have always thought that the inhabitants of the mountainous parts of this island were more intelligent than the plain-dwellers. Their Celtic ancestry may not be the reason after all.
AEG had been to the hairdresser’s. She was told E.Greaves had been before her. Enid Greaves’s [a first cousin] young man is in lodgings and does not get enough to eat. “So I invited him home for supper,” said Enid, “but he was too ill to eat.” “What were you giving him?” “Well, I boiled him some nice onions.” The hairdresser was amazed at her liberality.
In the evening I called on Edge at 7 pm. and stayed till midnight. He had called three times but I was out. He said Westmore was going to Southampton. He has a teaching scholarship. Besides, he wants to leave home. His people are restrictive and he wants to “see life”, after which he can write novels. Now it struck me that people ought to be able to gain experience wherever they are. I was shown some of Westmore’s poetry. It is no good, but written a year ago when he was 17. His prose on the other hand is quite stylish. Edge is a pacifist. He would like to go to Canada taking some books, a gun and fishing tackle and leave European civilisation to rot. I disagreed. We’d be like rats leaving a sinking ship. I have a soft spot for European civilisation, in spite of the long shameful history. What will I do if there is a war? Try to run away. I’ll not fight, so they might as well let me go. There is just one hope – if capitalism is destroyed. I gave him some poems to take to Alan Morton. It will serve as an introduction. Alan is at Caius, and I told him about him.
I read Havelock Ellis’s Dance of Life
E.Wynne Hughes was the headmaster. I couldn’t stand him. Hains was the Latin teacher who ran the school magazine. The other “old boy” I “kindly” referred to was Wilfred Owen! I think I met Edge also at the Joint Learned Societies soirée. He was a brilliant pupil, good at mathematics and physics, less good at chemistry. He could usually defeat me at chess. At the same time, as his mother once said to me, he was not “worldly wise”. As for Westmore he went to Southampton and I think was for a time influenced by Leishman [Unable to trace the significance of Leishman]. He came to nothing. He saw life and I suspect became unduly enamoured of one aspect of it, beer.
October 3 Tuesday: I learned that I have one similarity with Einstein – he likes Bach, Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven less, the romantics not at all, and that pianoforte improvisation is a necessity of his life.
October 4 Wednesday: In the morning Halliday called and said he is to have all his upper teeth extracted this afternoon. I learned that according to Donald Magee the most polite Piggott has taken to swearing. Before delivering some dreadful oath he pauses and looks around him with a “see how bold I am” air. This is a typical Magee observation. Richardson has not matriculated. Keates has a school certificate.
In the afternoon I read and played, then went to the Liverpool Botanical Society meeting. Mr Marsh, Green etc. were there and Hu. too. He was not a member but was curious to see Dr Theodore Green’s slides. An amusing incident occurred. The slides got out of order. The doctor reproached the operator, a young laboratory assistant aged about 22. He swore he had not touched them, but that the boss (Duggan) had done so. Dr Green grew highly sarcastic. Somehow this got to Duggan who flew in in great fury, demanding an apology from Dr Green. He explained volubly to all of us that nobody but the Doctor himself could have got them into a muddle. Miss Millner-Brown took the Doctor’s part. “Chris is a silly little fool.” “Duggan is very touchy!” said Green. But Hu. was a strong upholder of the young man.
Hu. was a botany student of my year. Duggan was the famulus of Professor McLean Thompson, a sycophant of a very rare vintage, but only to his boss.
October 5 Thursday: In the morning Edge came to say goodbye. I called on Piggott who left me with Miss Mount. We had scarcely begun a conversation when Richardson and Donald Magee arrived. They made an abominable noise. Miss Mount asked them when they were going to grow up. I left after a few minutes. In the afternoon I met Lunn, later Ca. Then I called on Piggott again and remained with Miss Mount and Charles Mount till 10.30. Mr and Mrs Piggott were there but Piggott was out. Mount told me that he read Emerson’s essays at the age of 20 and this book influenced him more than any other. Miss Mount had been lent the Poetry Review by a friend. E.Wynne Hughes has written asking me to write an appreciation of Wilfred Owen for his school magazine. I suppose I shall have to.
Ca. was Cathcart, I think. I remember nothing else about him. I read Owen from anti-war sentiments. It was Hodge who first told me where he went to school. The only teachers I am quite sure I shared with him were Smallpage and Bennett. In connection with this article I wrote to Smallpage. He told me that Owen’s particular school friend was called Paton. I then wrote to Paton. I think Paton’s sister taught me at primary school – an exceptionally able teacher.
October 6 Friday: I went to enrol at the university and saw Piggott, Halliday, Clarkson, AHW, Le. and Leather (in his 16th year) with whom I played chess. There were also McNeill and Hu. I lunched with Halliday. Piggott has listened to Halliday’s pleading to abolish dances – “herself” being in Hereford and after sending him a letter of 16 pages. But it is too late to save Magee. He has failed. “Yes,” says Piggott, “Magee is a gas-oven case.”
I thought of the idea of taking a party of students to the Autumn Art Exhibition with Mr Raice to explain what we saw. I called on George Wright, Keats and Gill. I met Lawrence Batty’s friend. He laughed when I mentioned Christian Science. I went a walk to Brimstage with Wright. It was dark as we came back. But what did we see but Magee silhouetted as he lit a cigarette for Evans 2. This bears no excuse. He is committing the youngster to a habit which, even if it is not certain that it will adversely affect his health, will cost him a great deal of money in his lifetime. He is, as AEG observes, a “typical ne’er-do-well”.
I have been reading about Leonardo da Vinci and am fascinated by the universality of his genius.
AHW – Arthur Hyatt Williams, whom I was quite friendly with at school, though he was more so with WHG [Harley Greaves, a first cousin]. He was interested in butterflies and moths, while I moved towards botany. He qualified as a Doctor of Medicine and enjoyed one brief burst of publicity when, in practice in Bristol, he admitted to having received the confession of a murderer. I forget the rest of the case.
Le. – Lees, a personable Liverpool-Irishman whose family knew mine, but the most unreliable man on earth. I think Donald Magee was some kind of leader in the Boy Scouts, another organization of which I disapproved. He was therefore admirably placed for leading young people astray.
October 7 Saturday: In the morning Piggott called to get me to type the MS of his forthcoming lecture on television. Then I went to Birkenhead Institute to see Raice who agreed to my suggestions. I notified Piggott, George Wright, Keats, Gill and Matthews.
It is interesting how people are affected differently by a piece of music. CEG told me that when he was miserable and played “See the conquering hero comes”, it was not at all so as to cheer him up, but to express his melancholy in dolorous harmonics!
October 8 Sunday: I bought two pamphlets in Cook Street, The dying peace and Patriotism Ltd. I saw Lawrence Batty later. He said spontaneously that he could not come a walk with me this afternoon as he was going swimming. When I said, “Nobody axed you, sir, she said,” he was quite taken aback. I borrowed Descarte’s Discours sur le méthode from the Library. In the evening I called on George Evans.
October 9 Monday: I called on Wright and listened without great interest to his adventures with his lady friends. I also saw Piggott who was making an electric clock. A letter from Keats said he was coming to the exhibition. I sent him a ticket for the neo-Bechstein concert. The German Bachfest is on the radio every night. Calling at Halliday’s I found Piggott there. They do not think Donald Magee will return to the University. They had called on him this morning but had not gone in as Lunn was there, no doubt seeking out the latest scandal. Halliday quoted a person (anonymous) who visited him on Sunday and denounced him as a “nosy, mischief-making thing who could never mind his own business”. I dare say it was Cathcart (who goes to Halliday’s kirk) and was mad with Lunn who rode all the way from Bromborough to tell him that I said Cathcart was a fool. But Lunn is not a deliberate mischief-maker. He merely wants to be IN things. Donald Magee did not complain that Lunn was pestering him. Richardson told Piggott that he has no plans. While Magee does not appear unduly depressed Piggott thinks him more ‘subdued’ than usual. Keats accompanied Piggott to his lecture last night. I finished Dostoevsky’s Possessed.
I remember Cathcart from this. It is inconceivable that I would have called him a fool. He was a capable organist and I remember his taking me into North Road Presbyterian Church to play the organ there, first locking the pedals, which I could not manage.
October 10 Tuesday: I went to the university. I saw Clarkson and Jackson. In the afternoon there was a botany practical. Cq. was there again. He and Travis were discussing atheism. They neither of them believe in God. Who does? Even those who do, don’t. The newcomers were mediocrities, an insipid lifeless lot.
Cq – Colqhoun – was one of the brighter ones. Travis I think was a “mature” student of about 25. Intelligent. But I may have confused him with Jackson.
October 11 Wednesday: I borrowed Spengler’s Untergang des Abendlands, translated under the title The decline of the West. But the word “Abendland” sounds much more romantic than “West”, except that its components prevent it from acquiring a magical sense as a whole, as does “West”. In the evening Keats and I went to see and hear the neo-Bechstein played by John Hunt. It was amusing to see how badly John Tobin played an instrument requiring so different a technique from that of a piano. But the playing of this machine lacked the persuasive ‘snap’ of a piano and did not compensate with a pluck or any tonal individuality.
October 12 Thursday: Hardly have I returned to the university when I have caught a cold. Not that I ought to blame the university, but rather myself for going out in a damp coat on Sunday. The last four days have been cool and showery, though it is still warm for the time of the year. I saw Jackson and Clarkson. We think Donald Magee is taking Education, having failed the Intermediate for the 4th time. Jackson caught a glimpse of him taking the Underground in the morning. I also saw Halliday who brought me a sonnet from the Spectator which he thought in some way “resembled your poem”. Well-meaning but not flattering. I suppose he wanted to show his grasp of poetic matters and had no other way.
October 13 Friday: I forgot to say yesterday that I had the pleasure of meeting Dj. twice. I was a godsend to him, he told me the second time. For when he met me the first time and went out of his way to accompany me, he had as a result encountered that very “one and only” girl he has so long plotted for, Miss Cheeseborough. He very succinctly expressed his intention of living on his parents as long as they are foolish enough to keep him. For my part, though I did not tell Dj., I think they are to be blamed as much as he. But I suppose they could do nothing with him.
Dj. – Darlington (Harold) – I met first when cycling with Donald Magee in 1927. He was then in the junior school, therefore aged about eleven. I gave him the nickname Darjeeling, I forget why, and it stuck. I think he would have made a good salesman. At this time he was the most excitable person I knew and I was bad enough myself!
October 14 Saturday: Yesterday I was so destroyed by a cold that I did not go out, except to call on George Wright in the evening. He said that he had conducted Dilys Evans to the university and held her unresisting hand with great pleasure. It seems Magee is not in education. So where is he?
October 15 Sunday: In the afternoon Lawrence Batty called and despite my cold being about at its crisis I went for a walk. He brought the report of the thunderstorm organization which has gone so far as to offer a reward for any genuine thunderbolt that should come out of the sky, so strong is their scepticism of it, and they in debt to the tune of £138. I expect Batty won’t give them a brass farthing. Ten to one he only joined so as to have his name in the report, and to feel suitably important. He says he has started a diary “since is seems fashionable”. So I asked why the fashionable. “Well, you do it and Lethbridge does.” “Perhaps Lethbridge thinks it will be useful to his biographer. It has run to three volumes already,” says the silly fellow. He admitted the accusation that like JL. he reads many books only so as to be able to say he has read them. In essays he always chooses the shortest first, as examples. How he thinks he can write without knowing anything mystifies me. He has written a “play” depending on divorce without knowing that divorce is not allowed by mere mutual consent. And his optimism is wonderful. If I can’t manage anything worth printing how could he?
When we came to Barnston we saw Hodge fly past on a bicycle, wearing spectacles. He scarcely smiled. He behaved very oddly that day we went to Llanwchllyn. I was very casual with him on Wednesday on the boat, and deliberately acted the superior – his own fault for giving himself airs. Besides, I felt saucy. Later Lunn called. He calls because he has nothing better to do and brings gossip as his passport. He had called on Donald Magee and found him gruff. Then Lees told him he had a double bass fiddle bought for his band – wreathed with smiles. Lunn has a “crush” on Magee and now he can go there frequently to play the fiddle. He said Magee was going into the church but I think he has confused him with Richardson. Lunn attacked Jackson, Westmore and Cathcart and said that last week Halliday actually recognized him and saluted him from his bicycle, this being due to his admission into the Magee circle. Then I went to bed.
Lawrence Batty had of course a genuine interest in meteorology. JL. was George Jellicoe, a poor divil if ever there was one. He was of more working class background than most of us, and spoke with a typical Liverpool accent. Wynne Hughes was looking for Oxford scholarships, so this young fellow, whose brains were very mediocre, was worked and overworked till he developed a stammer. But they got him to Oxford. I met him once and he was speaking with the most extraordinary hybrid accent and stammering worse than ever. I think he was killed in the war, so it was all pointless.
The Llanwchllyn trip would be in the previous June or July. We cycled there and had tea in a restaurant. A middle-aged bearded gentleman was there, and a woman whose manager he seemed to be. “This is Miss Wilhelmina Stritch of the ‘Daily Mirror’”, he said. “No don’t speak to her. I understand women. I’ll get her autograph for you.” This he did – written on a Daily Mirror. He then turned to the proprietor. “Do you remember, during the war, there were sea-lions in Bala Lake?” The proprietor did. “Well I’m the man who had them.” They were experimenting in submarine detection.
Hodge seemed to be in great spirits but, possibly from a sudden attack of fatigue, between Corwen and Carrog he fell completely silent and only spoke monosyllables the rest of the way!
October 16 Monday: I went to the university but came back feeling unwell. I saw Bdg. who told me how he provided stage properties for Halliday’s “Rover troop” and had the gift horse looked in the mouth. One thing about Bdg. is his pronounced instinct to retaliate. He resigned and expected some notice to be taken of it, at least to be asked the reason, but he was not. He then sent them a furious letter telling them to go to hell. He attacked Donald Magee, and passed on Lunn’s (Wk’s) rumour that Magee was going into the church.
I am afraid that I have given up the scheme of living by my pen. I cannot be good enough. That is simple. I shall turn to schoolmastering and, if I feel really hopeful, shall scribble then and publish if necessary at my own expense. I do not desire like Batty (who is good for nothing else) to serve an apprenticeship to demos. I can’t manage demos. I’m too suspicious of it. So to hell. You’ve got to live.
I think Bdg. was a young man called Bridge I was at school with.
October 17 Tuesday: I called on Lawrence Batty. It seems the dance at RFHS which Batty was learning dancing for was the one Donald Magee’s band was to play at and never took place. Batty knows EE. who is a socialist and still a chess-player. He has been an accountant for a year and started by wearing a bowler hat.
I called on Piggott later as he had been asking George Wright about me. He said Magee had not been seen at the university and nobody knows what he proposes to do.
EE. – Eric Ekins – was a friend of mine at primary school. He taught me to play chess, and was a keen walker. We kept in contact for a few months after we had gone to different schools.
October 18 Wednesday: A number of us, myself, Piggott, Keats, Gill, Mathews and George Wright, visited the autumn exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, under the guidance of Mr Raice, who had two pictures there. The event was a notable success. Gill is a very enthusiastic artist who may do well. Keats is not so promising as Gill.
PS Raice was the art teacher at Birkenhead Institute. I was hopeless at it and he knew I always would be. Yet he never showed the slightest impatience and was delighted when I became interested in looking at art. I don’t think he was a powerful artist.
October 19 Thursday: In the morning with Jackson I went into the laboratory where Dr Keffler intimated in a very friendly way that I should have to do more work if I wanted to be successful next June. It is difficult for an experimentalist to understand my aversion to laboratory work. It amounts almost to a visible shrinking from it. I read of what is to be done, a series of perfectly simple operations like cutting a cork, for example, and mentally recoil from the prospect. Perhaps this is connected with my inability to draw, lack of manual dexterity. Yet I can do quite delicate things like pressing flowers and am quite patient. An immense pile of theory never repels me. It could be irksome but it could never produce the desire to run away. Of course George Wright, who is an expert carpenter, says the laboratory used to drive him to distraction.
I called on George Evans who has organized a debating society at school. Since Allison gave up, the original one is restricted to the oldest pupils. I saw Cathcart who apologised for libelling me and said that Lunn was a low mischievous busy-body who had written a letter to him saying, “Greaves says you’re shallow and empty and I think so too and I’m getting fed up with you.” Lunn’s father used to be known as “Barmy Lunn” and this one is a chip of the old block. Cathcart said Lunn had no interests but busy-bodying. He had been continually pestered by him, and Donald Magee had done ill to admit him to his acquaintance. “So it’s all right with us, then,” said Cathcart on parting, “whatever he says”. Lawrence Batty called and to shut up his talking I played the piano on him and made him listen to Bach and Handel and the classic school. His sister knows Magee, Halliday and the other jazzpots.
October 20 Friday: At the university I talked and argued with a very English person called Travis. He told me he sketches, and talks of the joy of oration for pure love of it, but he’d done nothing good enough to receive notice. He thought Colqhoun was a “natural” – a half-one. So he is, but not quite so silly as Travis makes out. There is a very silly person, always playing “practical jokes”, whom Travis loathes. His name is Alwyn Jones. There are two Egyptians, one called Ali Mahamut Sulamon, and two very humorous girls who planted themselves by Travis and me.
Today I borrowed the translation of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and paid my fees. I saw Piggott and Richardson at Piggott’s in the evening. Richardson is anxious to reinstate himself there. Donald Magee is engaged on Fridays, but Piggott indicated to Richardson that he has no wish to be used as an alternative programme. Richardson would not tell us Magee’s intentions. Piggott is to hold no more dances but denied that this arose from my and Halliday’s representations. The reasons are (1) “herself” is in Hereford; (2) In “due course” he will not hesitate to use Magee’s band. At this I blew him up in no polite terms. I think Lunn must have told him Halliday and I were claiming the credit. The rumour of Magee’s ecclesiastical ambitions come not from Wk. but from another member of Magee’s band, Seed, a very objectionable character, but like Lunn completely fascinated by Magee. There will be storms.
I wrote to Smallpage regarding Wilfred Owen.
Leonardo da Vinci observed that we long for sleep as a pleasure but are unconscious of it. Now I argue that we are never unconscious.
I can’t recall who Wk. was. Piggott’s favourite expression was “in due course” and anything that he thought appropriate was “suitable”. With Darlington it was “good and proper”, “top and bottom”, “right and left”, “all the way round”. He was a natural extremist, Piggott a moderate!
October 22 Sunday: In the evening I called on Halliday and told him about the Cathcart affair. I saw the latter also and he was anxious to make the rapprochement complete. Halliday was amused at Piggott’s hypocrisy, withdrawing his former admission. Later I wrote a sonnet.
October 23 Monday: That sonnet is no good. I’ve done another. I read more of Leonardo’s notebooks. I was playing the piano and found as often before that there is a specially brilliant quality in D major. I think sharp keys receive a heavy stress on the mediant, as the black keys stand out. The reverse is true of the flats. B and Bb are unique. But why are F, C and G so different and why do A major and Db have so recognisable an individual quality?
I saw Keats and Gill on the boat. George Wright and Halliday called in the evening. A letter arrived from J. Smallpage in which he said:
I am glad to hear from you and shall be glad to know of your future doings. We have been away a good deal this year and have only just returned from Clifton. I cannot say much about W.Owen; he was a good obedient boy who did his work conscientiously, gave no trouble to the masters, joined in the games but showed no special ability. He was, in short, an ordinary schoolboy – rather shy and reserved. He had one special chum, A.Paton. I suggest you should get in touch with him. He is a graduate BA of Liverpool and when I last saw him was a master in a school on the south coast. You should be able to find his address from the AMA or a University Directory.
Kind regards, Yours sincerely, J.Smallpage. “
J.Smallpage was Headmaster of Birkenhead Institute until his retirement in 1929. He was a mild-mannered old-fashioned gentleman who never raised his voice and was surprisingly non-authoritarian. I remember that I once complained to him that some of the rougher element were taking our bicycles and riding them in a careless manner much to their detriment. He caught one of the culprits and called us both in. “Now I’m not going to make this more than it is,” he said to him, “but I’d like you to understand that if you cause damage to another boy’s bicycle his father could sue your father for the cost of repairing it.”
October 24 Wednesday: I called on Charles Moat who was out, and then went to Lawrence Batty to recover booklets I had lent him. Phew! He is a very serious kind of fool and so thinks he isn’t one. He thinks everything easily done because he can do nothing. I took the booklets to George Wright who was out. I saw AO Jones. He said that in Carmarthen any boy who is not too clever is made a bank clerk or a medical student. And the black sheep of the family goes into the church.
I never saw so many things broken in a day before. I cleared off 3 beakers and a flask in one minute. Halliday was there. To give him his due he concealed his pleasure very well. The lab-boy broke the door of a cupboard, and a flask that was inside it. In botany somebody dropped a box full of microscope slides from the fourth floor. It was quite exciting. But I missed train, boat and ‘bus.
AO Jones was the chemistry teacher, a very able one, too. He thought one’s university days the best. You had “no responsibilities”.
October 25 Wednesday: In the morning I took pity on an Egyptian student who is not yet at ease here. He has intense respect for the English. “You are pure English,” he said to me admiringly. I hastily disabused him of the notion. The damned overbearing creatures have pretended to be a superior race. He opened the doors for me. But I wasn’t having any. Finally he told me he was very grateful to me and would remember me “for ever”. It was beautiful oriental eloquence. There is no doubt that people of ancient civilisations appreciate that there is much to be said for politeness. They show more delicacy of feeling than is discoverable in these barbarians.
I finished the Leonardo notebooks and borrowed a book on Art by Raymond Coxon. I called on Mr Moat at 6.30. He gave me advice regarding a suitable foreign correspondent. Moat is wondering whether to settle in France and take private pupils there. He says he has long made no secret of his dissatisfaction with Liverpool and especially one particular area of it, viz. Whetstone Lane [where Birkenhead Institute was situated]. The present chess club is hampered by lack of practice due to compulsory games. He reckons that there must be a few cranks in Whitehall who cause this strange rule.
Then I went home and heard Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony. I can’t write poetry and the old exuberance of my prose style has completely abandoned me. It is as if my guardian angel had eloped.
October 26 Thursday: I do not think it true, on second thoughts, that the spirit has left me, but it is burning rather low. I had an idea for a short story and quite a good one too.
Jackson returned after an illness. We decided to collaborate in order to make up lost time. I asked one of the lab-boys where I could get some ice. He directed me to the basement from which I took one piece and was carrying it up (Halliday being present like an omen of bad luck) when a fierce offensive assistant from the organic department declared that I had stolen his ice and demanded its restoration. His department had a thousand times what I had taken. The inorganic lab-boy was anxious to help because I had covered up for him over the cupboard he broke. “Pooh!” he said, “A bit of ice! It would make you sick!” We went to Monsieur Keffler. He said that his experience here was that people would not lend you a test-tube, some of them. When he first came he used to approach them but experience taught him not to. He himself requires ice every day and has no chest for it. The lab-boys in the organic department are crude and disobliging foul-mouthed and inveterate gamblers, and the staff of the department is composed of perfectly horrid individuals. Certainly like attracts like.
The more I consider it the more I believe that my “Cader Idris” is a prophecy of what I am now undergoing, an earthquake rather than a volcanic eruption, for the foundations are creaking.
I forgot to say that M.Keffler said that a student had talked to him for two hours on the first day of term and had not been seen since. “I haf sometimes to go over seex times – Yes! do not laugh, I do – and I am not paid to be a policeman.” Keffler is the most humorous of the lot. I think it is the Egyptian.
Cader Idris. I don’t know if a copy survives. It was quite a long poem in pentameter stanzas and got some praise from the Poetry Society, written I would say around June 1933. This interweaving of life and art I referred to when dealing with O’Casey [in his book Sean O’Casey: Politics and Art, 1979]. Very few critics understand it.
October 27 Friday: I again saw the Egyptian. He said the Dean – a dreadful messer – had rung up Guthrie to say the Egyptian should do higher chemistry. “But I think it would be too hard for me, and I might not get through. And besides, I hate it.” I advised him to see his professor of bacteriology.
“Do you know much chemistry?”
“I knew – not so much.”
“Then do normal. Thompson is a noted messer.”
In the afternoon George Evans called. He is having trouble with his parents who want him to go to church. I told him about Bailey’s bombshells, (1) The existence of the atom is proved. (2) Xenon forms a compound with mercury. (3) There is a hydrogen isotope with atomic weight 2 and its compound with oxygen “heavy water” is a deadly poison. I went to the chess club and saw Charles Moat and George Wright.
Atom. What this ‘proof’ was I don’t recall. Electron microscope? There was some talk of Ostwald’s theories at this time [Wilhelm Ostwald, German natural philosopher].
October 28 Saturday: In the morning George Evans came and we played chess. From the Library I borrowed The Hellenistic Age by four Cambridge professors. Spengler is right in thinking we live in a Hellenistic age now, but his identification of Napoleon with Alexander is questionable. It is too much to expect that those intellectual and economic causes which promote the often repeated sequence of development should also produce the typical individuals at the corresponding moments. All the same the cases appear parallel. But no civilization has ever been on a par with ours in point of control over nature. Possibly we deserve a different prognosis. When decline turns to decay we can expect very peculiar conditions.
For that matter I am afflicted with a species of ‘mal du siecle’ myself. And all the old problems have taken on a new meaning.
October 29 Sunday: In the evening George Evans called and told how George Wright had come into the chess club to see Mr Moat and had played a game with George Evans. Later I tried to resuscitate my soul by reading Blake, and I nearly wrote something afterwards.
October 30 Monday: I heard that Keffler is at loggerheads with his department, and consequently we are exiles. And he and his department together are at war with the organic department. Thompson and others declared for Keffler on the grounds that he “sticks up for himself”. A man called Oldershaw hates Keffler. But I like him greatly. He is so delightfully human. I had an unsolicited photograph taken in Church St. in a fierce northwest wind. I show it below [see photo inserted in Volume 1 of the Journal].
Thompson etc. I have no recollection of them. At this time I knew nobody interesting in the University. Later when I met people from the Arts faculty it was different.
At 7 pm. I met George Evans and we went to the Autumn Exhibition and stayed to a concert. What had attracted us was Bach’s Brandenburg No.3 in G. Strangely enough I found the Delibes that followed quite tolerable, though Evans did not like it. On the boat we saw Darlington who told us (for the 99th time) that he had “gone off women altogether” and had not bothered to meet even Miss Cheeseborough. I also saw Lunn who said he was going to Donald Magee’s tonight. He said it as if he thought it would cause me annoyance.
Green saw me on the boat and said that at Saturday’s meeting of the Joint Learned Societies the lights went out on them, and there was no proper preparation for their coming. He told me how Dallman used to be treasurer of the Liverpool Botanical Society (formed by secession from the field club, after a quarrel) and let us run into a debt of £100. Dr Lee took on the treasurership and pulled us out. When Green 2 took over he showed credit balances and Dr Lee’s legacy put us in a strong position. The other societies are badly off. The field club wants to amalgamate again, but as Dr Green and Laverock are so tetchy we’ll delay it as long as possible
Dr Lee was “St.Helen’s-Irish”, I think. But he could speak Irish and used to cycle round Ireland with his sister every holiday. He was not married and when she died he followed. He was the first man I ever heard give a philosophical lecture one hour long without notes. When I commented on it to Green he replied, “That’s the advantage of a trained mind.” CEG knew him. Dr TC Theodore Green was a typical “field naturalist” but he was also a photographer and coloured plates by hand with quite remarkable results. He was in his seventies at this time.
October 31 Tuesday: In the afternoon I went to the Café Nord with Halliday and chanced to see Re. with a ton of cares on his brow who did not deign to notice us. I looked up one of my diaries and found a reference to him on page 1292, where I read about some of his intrigues against myself and Be. On an impulse I went to see Be. and showed him an Art Gallery prospectus. He had heard of my publications. Before I went I had been horribly depressed. My university work is in a very bad way and I doubt whether I shall pass the degree exam next July. The exam is not so serious as this long course of practical work, wearying and detestable. Be. records his disappointment with his fellow students. He is now taking a correspondence course and looks jaded and worn out. He works too hard. It is no life for a young man, slaving for a qualification as a fact-barrel, which is of dubious commercial value anyway. It is a poor civilization that imposes this medicine. Can you wonder we can lose heart. I wrote a poem when I returned home.
Re. – Rees – sometimes known as Snow, an orphan who lived with his uncle not very comfortably. He was not a bad lad but I was angry with him at this time. I think he was killed in the war. He was a friend of Donald Magee’s. Be. – WA Bennett – a considerable friend of mine at school, but though we said we’d keep in touch afterwards we developed in different ways. He was articled to a solicitor and presumably became one. We used to go cycle rides and I stayed a weekend with a friend of his family, a gamekeeper on Berwyn called Murphy. We had a great time by the river and on the mountains.
November 1 Wednesday: In the morning I saw Jackson. In the afternoon Bennett called and we went to the Autumn Exhibition and then to the Café Nord. I told him about the incident and he said he had always hated Rees. Of course his family have ruined him by making him go to church and encouraging him to play football. He is still religious. Later George Evans came to play chess.
November 2 Thursday: I called on Rees but heard he is at college in London with the object of becoming a cleric. I had wanted him to get my chess book from Magee. I called myself but he was out. Piggott was there and Magee’s mother said the book had lain on a sideboard for months with one of Halliday’s. So I went to the Library and borrowed the life of Flecker.
As to the problems of the day, my everlasting one is to comprehend the whole of my interests in one unity. I think the way to solve problems is not by some grand creation but by the re-arrangement of subordinate theories. These psychological changes are perceptions – as if one first looked at a reflection in a plate of glass, and then looked right through it to see what was behind, without missing what was reflected. Later I called on Mrs Quigley and listened to their gramophone till 10.30. I feel more like writing.
Mrs Quigley was a special friend of my mother’s, a Belfast woman married to a Derry man. They were Methodists. They went back to Ireland and Phyllis[CDG’s sister] used to visit them.
November 3 Friday: In the morning an interesting communication arrived from Paris. It suggested I should advertise for a French correspondent in Les Nouvelles Litteraires. I found this on sale in the Arcade. It describes itself as the “great intellectual hebdomadary”. I’ll have to learn to write French properly. George Wright came and we played chess.
November 4 Saturday: I wrote to Alan Morton and read Baudelaire’s Eugene Delacroix in l’Art Romantique. Halliday called and we walked to Barnston. Later I borrowed Aldous Huxley’s Music at Night and Fiona McLeod’s Sin Eater. The ability to write poetry is slowly trickling back.
November 5 Sunday: I finished Aldous Huxley. He is on the side of the angels. The Daily Mail treated his Brave New Worldsomewhat cavalierly. It dares to confute the obvious in face of a million readers.
In the afternoon Magee brought back my chess book. He occasionally makes a little money by his jazz. Lunn is often there, but since he is tootling he can’t be talking and a silent Lunn is quite tolerable. Later George Evans called. We played chess. Then I went on with Baudelaire’s book. I have the rhythm of French and can read it quite easily. What about Welsh? One of the most serious problems of the artist is intermittent fertility. What is to be done while the art is brewing? I suppose stack memory with useful luggage, set about acquiring mechanical skills, languages etc.
November 6 Monday: I am afraid that the prospects of passing the BSc exam next year are not bright. Monsieur Keffler exploded today at myself and Jackson and said I had done too little work last year. The fact is that I hate the practical work so intensely that I can’t bring myself to do it. This year Jackson is there and the others are all pleasant people, unlike last year’s horrible gang. That you should do much is not demanded. But you should be there. The whole system is so ridiculous that anyone setting a value on a BSc must be mad. But if I don’t get one I’m ruined. That is the wondrous logic of modern education.
Anyway I made myself read some botany, then returned to Baudelaire. I borrowed Freud’s Leonardo da Vinci.
The system of education was to blame. I was exempted from intermediate but must spend 3 years getting a degree. Hence I had to do the one course twice and was bored stiff. If I’d been allowed to take the degree exam in Chemistry, then concentrate on Botany for a year I would have come through with flying colours.
Regarding Freud his writings were not available to students but I had a special dispensation. The Central Library refused to issue me what I wanted. I was referred to the Assistant Librarian, then to the Librarian himself, then to the Dean of the Faculty of Science, then to my own professor, McLean Thompson. Whatever else about him, he picked up the telephone, rang the Chief Librarian and said, “I would be obliged if you would issue Mr Greaves with whatever he wants.”
November 7 Tuesday: It is often a trifle tedious to detail the dull events of these obolary days. My spirits are at a low ebb. However I decided to try to pull myself together. Actually I understood the thing I had written in July:
” . . .so internecine was
That company behind
My walls that for protection I resigned
Almost to let them conquer us.”
And so the whole of Cader Idris has been lived through and there are no more prophecies left. I attended the Liverpool Botanical Society meeting.
November 8 Wednesday: Things went on the same way. I found small enough consolation in writing, for I can do nothing good. But I have taken to doing some academic work. I can do nothing else with the examination in June hanging over me. I went on with Baudelaire and an essay on him borrowed from the library. I feel a repulsion when I begin to work – as if after all it is not worth while.
This is no life for a young man. The time is wasted in futilities like pouring one thing into another and seeing happen what was already known to be about to happen. Will I ever be able to write in peace? I suppose if I weren’t took cowardly I’d let it go hang and look for something else. Yet I’m equally unable to set to work. The criterion is memory. A person who is ‘good at’ botany is not a discoverer but a rememberer. Nobody has a worse memory for chemistry than Professor Bailey – if it doesn’t interest him. I’ve probably failed already through not going in enough. I see Mustafa Pasha has given it up. I can see the reason for the cultural decline in Hellenistic times. All who show a glimmer more than mediocrity are overcome by the combination of circumstances.
(When I stretched out my left arm there was an excruciating pain under the armpit. It has been like this for two days.)
The machine age is the result of the absence of slaves. Those who are naturally the slave-drivers were forced during the last century to adopt the suggestions of inventors. They tried children for a time. If there had been no slaves in Greek times, Rome might have known motor-cars. Soon the world will be saddled with both machines and slaves. I saw Pr. at 5 pm. He inveighed against the lower middle classes and the Fascists. The Poetry Review returned my MS without favourable comment. The critic thought I was bemoaning the “burden of intellect”. Take that away and you might as well be an imbecile.
November 9 Thursday: Last night I was in a rare black mood. I am surprised not to have rebounded to manic optimism. I went to Piggott’s lecture on the radio valve which was profoundly uninteresting. Paper aeroplanes soared down from the back benches and some students let off fireworks. An engineer assured me that this was nothing. The lecturer got quite a good hearing. The last meeting at which Piggott spoke was abnormal.
November 10 Friday: I went to the meeting of the LBS [Liverpool Botanical Society]. Miss Warhurst commissioned me to take his entry to Edge’s friend Westmore. It was the journal of a journey to Budapest with the boy scouts. It was not without merit but full of groping self-criticism. He noted that Darwin and Wallace miles apart simultaneously worked out theories of evolution. He mentioned Zwingli and Luther and juxtaposed others, only to conclude bathetically, “But speculation may be idle.” Well, speculation is never idle; it is the sine qua non of all constructive thought. Fruitless it may be, but never idle. Yet in style he has developed an artificial maturity ascribable in large measure to his predilection for Saxon rather than Latin words. This is visible from his corrections. With all his carefully studied maturity, obtained like that of Hodge by the desperate, and I think impossible in the end, process of jumping to age without passing through youth, there is a distinct young naiveté, however ridiculously combed out and camouflaged. Youth betrays itself in tricks of thought and unconscious turns of phrase. Only when a writer has read sufficient to incorporate within himself the best rhythm of the language can he hope to obtain that freedom from artificiality, the common denominator of the whole of our literature, which characterises good prose. And I think for my part that early extravagances are the best prelude, and it is far better to experiment widely when you have no reputation to lose, than to achieve an early reputation for stodginess. I then went to the chess club and drew a game with Charles Mount.
November 11 Saturday: I finished reading the essays on the Symbolists and returned it. In the morning I conveyed Westmore’s book to 31 The Wiend. His mother seems immensely proud of him. She says he writes poetry; but there is a disconcerting Mrs Batty touch about her. She wonders if I was associated with ‘The Rovers’, to whom Westmore owes some money for a dance he went to. Halliday’s dictum is that Westmore is no more than a conscientious plodder. His reactionary prose supports this view.
When from the library I borrowed Ness Edwards’s The Industrial Revolution in South Wales, I met Darlington in Borough Road. He was with Ken Wheat, who went away with a Miss Riding. Darlington said there was a theory that matter was negative to ether, in which circumstance it would gravitate. He said he had prospects of employment having had a successful interview with some Kastner-Kellner magnates. I left a book at George Evans’s. Darlington accompanied me there. The “bunny run” on that road has been destroyed by the police. There was too much accosting.
“Rovers” were a kind of superannuated Baden Powell Boy Scouts to which I was much opposed. I thought of joining when I was very young because other boys were doing so, but learned that you had to be “sworn in” and guarantee allegiance to the monarchy. Donald Magee was a member, and I think the young fellow Evans 2 was possibly a “scout”. The Road would be Park Road South.
November 12 Sunday: Nothing important occurred today. I was able to write a little verse. George Evans who had promised to come in the evening did not arrive. There was a very thick fog. I finished the account of the industrial revolution in South Wales.
November 13 Monday: Little occurred. I called on Piggott who was out, similarly George Wright. Lawrence Batty called during my absence to say he had found employment on the Birkenhead Advertiser – which must indeed be in a poor way to be in want of his services.
” Do you like the work?” asked AEG [CDG’s mother].
” Oh! Yes! I love it. It has been my ambition to be a journalist.” She could hardly contain her laughter. “He looks a bit soft, and must be,” was her comment. You can always guess peoples’ intellectual capacities by looking at them. I am seldom wrong. Batty’s appearance is against him.
November 14 Tuesday: I read Baudelaire’s Art Wagnerienne. I am feeling a bit decadent and “art for art’s sake-ish”. I am anyway a firm believer in “art for art’s sake” – always was – but at present suffer from its maladies too. My moods are unstable. The press of outward conditions is more and more felt. The outlook swiftly darkens. Next summer is the dreadful time. And my health is bad. I cannot move my left arm above my head, and the pain in my left side has been continuous for two months. AEG has become alarmed.
I played in a chess match, 5th for the 1st team, and won. I am now solving a game like a problem, not fighting it as a battle of chance. I can see now how I was overcome by Yaffe some years ago, and by Edge. Tonight my opponent struggled hard for a long time, then broke down utterly. George Wright was there.
Yesterday a letter from Alan Morton arrived. Edge took him Cader Idris and he agrees it is my best, despite the Poetry Society’s “interesting passages but obscure,” plus glosses illustrating the critic’s utter lack of comprehension of it. It must be regarded as a series of moods. Alan said he walked in an anti-war procession on Saturday [ie. in Cambridge where Alan Morton was doing postgraduate work on botany]. The Fascists pelted them with eggs, tomatoes, flour and soot, but were prevented by police from breaking up the demonstration.
On the Underground Clarkson made great of Miss Moat, Moat’s sister. Ivy Welfare of the loud voice was there and Wetherall took the Park train to avoid her – the snob! Jackson, Reid (called Jenkin’s Raid) and Miss Bowley were there.
The medical condition must have been arthritis. I was probably burning the candle at both ends. University work is hardly ever mentioned but it can’t have been so completely missing as would appear. And again the weather was wet.
Yaffe played P-QB3 to my P-K4 (the Caro-Kann) and won. The Liverpool Collegiate School, our great rivals for the Wright challenge shield, had a teacher who played some shady tricks. He would teach his team some exotic opening, knowing we only had Giuoco Piano or Queen’s gambit. On one occasion he put his best players on the lowest boards and his worst on the highest with instructions to play slow and get draws. It was as a result of this that clocks were introduced. Wetherall was with Halliday, Magee etc. in the “Rovers” and was the son of the financial editor (I think) of the Liverpool Daily Post. He studied science, and may have gone to the University, but I never had much to do with him.
November 15 Wednesday: Nothing of consequence occurred in the day. In the Library in the evening I met Mr Edge who said that Edge is doing very well at Cambridge. Outside I saw FE. who gave me the surprising information that his wife is dead. She died last night. I did my best to show the right kind of sympathy but I was quite at sea. He is terribly thin and worn, not half his old self.
FE. was a botanist and a friend of TC Theodore Green who told him where Gentiana Pneumomantle was to be found on Thurstaston Common so that we went to see it. He lived, I think, in Frankley, then a rural area. Either the parish church or the school – it may have been a parish school – had a competition for the best collection of wild flowers and for several years he had me out to ‘judge’ it. He took care to be present at the ‘judging’ and would point to some specimen and say, “You’d have to walk several miles to get that.” I had tea with him and met the wife after one of these festivals. She had such an angelic face that I was quite shocked when she passed some cynical remarks. I don’t know what she died of.
November 16 Thursday: James Smith and Son are trying to persuade AEG to buy a new piano. They sent us a ticket for one of their concerts in the Adelphi Hotel. It admits two and I called on Bennett with the suggestion that he would accompany me, but he was unwilling to leave the book-keeping which he loathes but does it. Piggott had called.
November 17 Friday: I attended Professor Garstang’s lecture in which he declared his conclusion that Jericho was of great importance during the Hyksos. It was overthrown by the new dynasty but rebuilt. The first destruction was about 1,400 BC, which is in agreement with the Hebrew writings. Miss Warhurst spoke to me there. I then went to Louis Cohen’s concert in the Art Gallery. There was a student looking at the pictures in the interval. I spoke to him and found he was on the Committee of the University Music Society, so I joined on the spot. His name is IHW Jones.
November 18 Saturday: I went to the Welsh Choral Society’s performance of Judas Maccabaeus, which I think superior to the Messiah. I had to return the Fiona MacLeod book without reading it. I am out of mood with the Celtic twilight. I must have something more analytic. All the same things are looking up. I have written sonnets, but no good ones. Since last July there is a certain glibness about my verse, a tendency to use the ready-made phrase. When the phrase is not ready-made it seems what is worse perhaps, easily made. I borrowed Owen’s poems again, also French Art in French Life by Hugh Stokes. I read Leonardo da Vinci by Séailles. It is quite a good analysis. I was favourably surprised.
November 19 Sunday: I read my Credo again and was surprised at the depth of its mystical meaning. It seems that peace can only be attained by a resolute ignoring of one’s own wishes, as it were to live entirely in the objective and – here is the doctrine – surrender oneself completely to the forces of the universe. I return to the question of why sleep is pleasant if we are not conscious of it. I say we are conscious of it and that sleep is equivalent to a secretion. I saw Keats for a minute in the evening, also George Wright. There is no sign of Evans.
Theory of sleep. My argument was that if we were unconscious we could not be awakened, for example by hearing our name. Since then the theory of “guard cells” that remain awake has solved the problem.
November 20 Monday: I saw Jackson and Halliday in the laboratory. This year’s chemistry students are lively and interesting. Apart from myself and Jackson there is Miss Doran (Irish), Miss Hodgson, Miss Thomas (Welsh Catholic), Mr Thompson and Mr Dorkens. Miss Hodgson shocked the lab-boy by using a brief but decisive word. He calls her a “swearmouth”, “beyond redemption.” Giggly Ivy Welfare and Miss Bowley came in for entertainment. I have moved away from Travis who gives me a pain and am now behind Colqhoun and Williams. Colqhoun reads poetry. Williams asks what we see in it, and Colqhoun replies that that is a silly question in relation to a form of expression of emotions. Today Colqhoun had a pain in his back and had to go home.
I cannot remember any of these, not even to the slightest, though I do remember the swearing incident.
November 21 Tuesday: This is a queer transitional period I am living in. I have begun to read Byron’s Childe Harold and am very amused by it – 20 stanzas a night in bed, and then some Leonardo. Colqhoun asked me to let him have some of my poems. He said he had seen the Poetry Review in the Picton. So I see he is genuine up to a point and shall let him have them, such as they are – where has last year’s megalomania gone? I think I estimate Colqhoun’s character correctly. At first he desired to talk seriously but was afraid to do so. He would say, “I only desire to be ordinary”, and that went down well with the canaglia. But this was because he did not feel himself “ordinary” and he confessed as much to me.
He idolises Frank Harris who, unlike the pacifist GB Shaw who wrote recruiting articles, went to jail with the best. Colqhoun also praises Harris for “sticking to Oscar Wilde” – “He did so for the sake of his genius.” I noticed when I went to George Evans’s in the evening that as soon as the Brahms Requiem began on the wireless my thoughts were completely sucked away from a mathematical problem with which I was helping him.
November 22 Wednesday: I walked to West Kirby with Evans to see the Rev. E. Robson about Marsh’s meteorological figures. Later we played chess.
November 23 Thursday: In the evening I called on Charles Moat and had a long conversation with him. He said he thought Piggott should have “cut out the Magee-Richardson lot before his exam. I’d cut ’em out altogether. I think his family were disappointed.” Of Halliday he said, “Bryce Halliday is far more of a human being than Sandy. There was always a queer moody streak in Sandy.”
November 24 Friday: I played a chess match in the evening and lost. Frances Pepper was 1st board, I was second, George Wright third. Green did not come. Wright won “for a wonder”, says Mr Moat, “because his opponent was one” I heard from Wright that he went to Dilys Evans’s and whom should he meet there but Arthur Williams who is working his way into that end of society.
I decided not to give my poetry to Colqhoun. I think he is a “megapolitan”. I borrowed The Pier-Glass by Robert Graves.
November 25 Saturday: I wrote the piece on Wilfred Owen and gave it to Haines. I finished Séailles’ Leonardo da Vinci and read Les Nouvelles Literaires bought in the Arcade. I took Dictatorship on Trial from the Library. I thought of a most immoral plot which would make a good poetic play if well handled.
November 26 Sunday: In the evening I saw Piggott, and George Wright who is a student-teacher at Park High School now.
November 27 Monday: I am told by Jackson that Bridge went to the pavilion on Wednesday and calmly helped himself to two biscuits. The custodian (Evans) demanded payment. “Oh – I’m privileged. I don’t have to pay,” said Bridge. “Yes you do,” he replied “and if you won’t you must leave the premises.” He refused, whereupon they forcibly ejected him, not without blows and battery, bounced him on the ground and chased him away. So he wrote an indignant letter to the school enclosing one halfpenny. What bumptiousness combined with a deficient sense of humour can do! A triumphal arch has been erected at the playing fields and Hughes is exercising great ingenuity to obtain subscriptions. He wants to plant trees with subscribers’ names on them, but the inhabitants of the surrounding houses propose to protest to the Corporation, to have them all rooted up for obscuring the light. I see that Halliday and Piggott are sponsoring a grand dance with Magee’s band. I lunched with Halliday. I hear that Dilys Evans has every day for three weeks waited for Arthur Williams to catch the train.
November 28 Tuesday: I sent some poems to the Poetry Review. I finished Robert Graves’s poems. I am writing on Wednesday. I’ve toothache and can’t recollect anything of Tuesday.
November 29 Wednesday: I’m still suffering from toothache. It began in the afternoon. Bridge had specially visited Jackson and me looking for sympathy. He contrived to be on the same boat. Everything is very black. But I received a long letter from Paton in Teignmouth giving details of his very close friendship with Wilfred Owen. I intend to preserve it.
Delving into the past points the mystery of “only once”. Isn’t it queer how everything only happens once? Think of all the old stories of magic gift-horses being looked in the mouth, whistles that give only one blast, the last room of Blue-beard. The results of fatal curiosity! Once we know, we cannot act. Freud unearthed the ‘unconscious’, and now there is an unconscious even if it had not been there before. Human motives have changed. Motives are only the illuminated facets of million-sided shapes. We never act from a simple reason. Once fatal introspection lights up a new motive, it lives for ever and one can never regain the first motive for a similar action. So to some extent our morality is in our own hands. By professing a noble motive we pay tribute to it, but we are condemned once we know, always to be no more than spectators of it.
The one final truth of the universe seems to be that all action is irreversible. Yet to sum it up in the word entropy is insufficient, because the irreversibility of action presumes its continuity. Motion once enacted cannot cease, for if it does reversibility is at once introduced, at least according to statistical equilibrium theory.
November 30 Thursday: I am destroyed by toothache.
Paton. Unfortunately in 1939 I grew interested in other things so that the letter, very unfortunately, was not preserved at all. I tried to get a copy of the article, but failed. But at present Birkenhead Institute has got a Wilfred Owen Library – so I am told.
December 3 Sunday: I am writing in a few hours respite gained by eating two aspirins and swigging potent tea. On Friday I played for the 1st Chess team, but I lost owing to two rowdy bridge players who bawled uproariously the very minute I was making my move, the way I took with a bishop instead of a pawn – after moving a rook five moves previously so that when I took with this pawn I could win a bishop. I lost all my attacks and the toothache did the rest.
On Saturday I did not rise till midday, and then moped about, dowsing my mouth with “Miltor”. For half an hour after tea the pain moderated and I wrote to Paton thanking him for his letter. I had hardly finished when the agony began again. It is the dentist for me. There is an abscess.
December 4 Monday: I scarcely slept last night. In the morning it was very cold and AEG advised me not to go out. But after Mrs Quigley had called saying that for all her indigence Miss Scott had left £600 which the executors were busy diddling the beneficiaries out of, I went to Dr Donnelly who lanced the abscess and directed me to go straightaway to a dentist and if he refused to extract on account of the abscess, simply to go to one who would. I went to Mr Hely who said he was unable to give cocaine because of the abscess. Would I have gas (N20)? This I refused as loss of consciousness does not appeal to me. I asked him how long would the pain of extraction last. He said a second or so. So I told him to pull out and it was over in a moment. Now, since 7 pm. I have felt no pain at all, for when there is no drug there is no after effect. Hely said that the divil [Greaves usually wrote the Hiberno-English “divil” rather than “devil” in such expressions] a bigger abscess had he seen for many a long day. He showed it me. No wonder its fetid percolations affected my health. George Wright played chess with me in the evening and all being well I hope to go to the university on Wednesday. I then saw Ken Wheat at the Fire station and he said that Darlington had poisoned himself and is lying in bed groaning covered with pink spots.
December 5 Tuesday: It was very cold today, but that did not matter. I went to Donnelly and he prescribed some suitable physic, so that I’ll not be losing my teeth. The first signs of age come early indeed. It’s few years you enjoy your natural teeth and even then you’d readily forego the privilege.
I went to the LBS in the evening. Green, JDM, Moat were there. Mönch gave me his paper on biological memory etc. and I read it when I reached home and declare it a masterpiece. He maintains that habitual modes of growth and habits of action (he uses the word habitual in a peculiar sense) are heritable. He adduces a plethora of evidence to support such a view and very neatly explained the whole of evolution by its aid, as well as giving an explanation of a thousand hitherto unrelated facts. He is, incidentally, still unemployed. He claims that there is a certain amount of perceptual inference even in insects. It is surprising how small a brain can think. As for man, I think Art is his particular birthright.
JDM – JD Massey – a keen field botanist who used to “botanise” from a car. Mönch was an analytical chemist, rather odd-looking. People talked about hermaphroditism, but I know nothing about that. He was a clever fellow. At this time I was attracted to the theories of Lamarck.
December 6 Wednesday: I went to the Library in the afternoon, and borrowed the Best Poems of 1933, which are a very second rate motley. I have been reading The Picture of Dorian Gray. I am not sure people are right to say his epigrams are just superficial cleverness. But perhaps words can express a new meaning by chance juxtaposition! Cynicism is, I suppose, the rage of the impotent. But who would say that annoyance with the world as it is is illegitimate.
At a chess match against the Cunard I won. We won 5/2. Gr., Charles Moat, Richmond and I won. LB Wood lost. Whalley and Theaken drew.
Whalley was a first rate chess player, an analytical chemist at Levers who got an external degree through great industry. Gr. must have been Thomas Green who was at school with me and with whom I sometimes went cycling. Theaken’s name I remember, not Richmond’s. The LB Wood was, I suppose, the head-teacher’s son, a year older than I. If so he was a wonder-child who gained six distinctions in his matriculation and could offer a sensible opinion on nothing. The story used to be told by the notorious gossip Piggott that every evening Wood and his sister retired to separate rooms to study. At about 8.15 there would be a stamp on the floor of one study. Mrs Wood would take up oranges. Then there would be another stamp on another floor and oranges would go up to another room. By the time I knew him he was reading engineering and had such a stammer (like Jellicho) that he talked like poor poll parrot.
December 7 Thursday: In the evening I called on Halliday and remained there till about 10 pm. Nothing amusing is happening at present. The psychological tension is slackened by my late illness.
December 8 Friday: I persuaded Collinson to join the Chess Club, and played Theaken and Richmond. Charles Moat was there. Allison is ill with appendicitis. The poetry is in abeyance. I have been playing in D minor, which I used to like but went off. I thought it an unimportant key lacking in emotion like F. But in D minor there is something naturalistic. In B major and A flat minor however there is a bizarre element. I still enjoy D major best. Will it always be so? Diatonic scales and ethical belief. The fixed key note and transcendental faith. I think these pairs are historically connected.
Allison – JE Allison. The only one of my teachers who was really a remarkable man. I had little to do with him after 1928 as he taught geography which I abandoned for history as one could not do both. D major? Mutatis mutandis, yes. It is still so. But at this time I had not escaped from the Baroque emphasis on the relative minor.
December 9 Saturday: I am writing a long poem in Spenserian stanzas. At the Library I saw Hart and Bozier, “a typical clever child” as George Wright called him, but quite a ladies’ man. Wright called while I was out.
December 10 Sunday: I found Richardson out, so called on Wright. We played chess. I wrote some more Spenserian stanzas. I am now experiencing no difficulty with the meter. This is hopeful. I read to the end of the first Canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. I like Byron but cannot place it just yet.
December 11 Monday: I twice saw Green on the boat. I praised Mönch’s paper which the silly editor of the North Western Naturalist refused to publish. Green said that in the end the form of government would have to depend on the education of the people, on the intellectual and moral foundation of the nation.
At about 8 pm. a knock came at the door. I was delighted to find Edge there. He came for “two minutes” to invite me to his place but stayed late talking. He is intellectually keen. He likes to track the unidentified thought to its lair, catch it, tame it and joy-ride on it. He twice lunched with Alan Morton and has a very high opinion of him. Cambridge has improved him. He is overflowing with cerebral high spirits. There is something very powerful, almost meteoric about him, but I would not say that he has an artistic temperament.
As far as I can remember, I gave a poem which seems to have been Cader Idris to Edge to take to Alan Morton. As for AM, later Professor Alan Geoffrey Morton, I met him at the first or second meeting of the Liverpool Botanical Society, Green having spotted my collection of flowers at the JLS soirée. It must have been around November 1928. I think of the whole lot of them in this book he is the only one I kept contact with. It simply went without saying, though I shared digs with Edge in London and may have met him by accident as late as 1948.
December 12 Tuesday: Nothing important happened in the day, and I read some botany in the evening.
December 13 Wednesday: When I crossed the river on the boat I was interested to observe a raggedly dressed middle-aged man sitting opposite me. HIs face was drawn and wrinkled and his expression wild. He proceeded to talk to himself, muttering a mixture of gibberish and oaths. I watched him take out a pouch which I expected to contain tobacco, but he grinned at it, undid it, then fastened it and put it back. I observed him more carefully now. When he took it out again and unfastened it I saw it was full of bank notes. To return it he had to unbutton two waistcoats and hide it away in a false lining of an inner vest. He muttered savagely for a while, then put his hand in his coat pocket as if feeling for something. There was a jingle of coins and he giggled with glee. Then he carefully rebuttoned and began talking to himself. The soliloquy appeared to excite him for at times he contorted his face maniacally, clenched his hands and shook them frantically only to bend over and bury his face in them. He would suddenly rub his face and eyes madly as a tree rubs its branches together in a gale. The passengers who saw this looked distinctly uneasy. But he went away and we saw no more of him.
From the Picton I borrowed Perini’s Italian Grammar again, and from the Library Yeats’s Tower and Les Romans de Voltaire of which I greatly enjoyed Candide. I listened to Beethoven’s Mass in D.
Mass in D. It is strange that I did not comment on it. Certainly I cannot remember hearing it until I bought a recording in 1938 or thereabouts. I think I was still very much addicted to Baroque music and probably did not react to this difficult work. And yet I certainly knew and enjoyed the Brahms Requiem.
December 14 Thursday: I saw Jackson. The visits of Piggott to the chemistry building, where he teaches Ivy Welfare to use the slide rule, were satirically commented on (without names) in the Chemistry Society magazine. I bought a penny copy of The Blackshirt and was amused at the nonsense of it. Unfortunately for one who argues ridiculous views, six will put them into execution. As I walked home a communist accosted me and harangued me on the “Princess Louise who was a refugee during the war!”
In the evening a rather good-looking young woman, aged about 27, came to the door and begged me to buy some lavender “for a night’s lodging.” Now if AEG, CEG and Phyllis had not been in, I should have bought some. But I didn’t want them to see me “acting the softie” so I hardened my heart and sent her away. This I suppose I should not have done. Her face was as hopeless as a gravestone.
I heard the finest performance of the Messiah I ever heard, given by the Halifax Choral Society. The orchestral part was not neglected as it usually is and there was a superb balance.
December 15 Friday: The Manchester Guardian music critic has handled last night’s Messiah performance very roughly. He says the instrumental parts were unnecessarily cut and that the high note in “Thou shalt break them” is a barbarity.
In the evening George Evans called for a few minutes. He said he had been ill the day he should have called before. I am in a state of profound indifference since the beginning of the week. There is not much I can do to improve matters. This BSc I am going for puts a premium on stupidity as long as it is orthodox stupidity. I am fairly certain of ruin. But I don’t greatly care. I am writing poetry again so why worry? I went to chess and played Green, losing twice.
Phyllis declares that Lawrence Batty’s father has twice deserted his family in favour of booze and women but that Mrs Batty refuses to divorce him, indeed has induced him to return. It is small wonder for a man to run away from a Christian Scientist. I finished Candide.
December 16 Saturday: I went to the university in the morning and the Library in the evening. I borrowed the History of Slavery.
December 17 Sunday: Nothing important happened today. I did a little botany in the morning. In the afternoon I walked through the new Mersey tunnel with Halliday. But in the evening I visited Edge and played a game of chess which I lost.
December 18 Monday: There was a botany examination which I fear has ruined me unless terminal results do not count for much. I borrowed Baudelaire’s Petits poëmes en prose, and Vers et prose of Mallarmé, a book on Havelock Ellis, Mrs Arber’s Water Plants and Church’s Thallassiaphyta and Somatic Studies of Phaeophyceae. I did nothing for the rest of the day.
The Mersey tunnel was something of an engineering wonder. The roof was intact but we walked over boulders of loose sandstone. AJ Church was the only botanical writer I had any time for.
December 19 Tuesday: I borrowed Flinders-Petrie’s Revolutions of Civilization from the Education Library and read it the same day, also his Personal Religion before Christianity. What interests me most at the moment is the general history of humanity. But the plastic arts are included. I am steadily increasing my knowledge of French.
December 20 Wednesday: I borrowed The poison of prudery from the Library. Its author is called Gallichan and I largely agree with it. Sexual pleasure should be indulged without restriction, but with due regard to (1) venereal disease (2) keeping energy for art, though I think the artistic impulse uses a different stock. At the same time sex is a terrible insult to the ego which wishes to be all-sufficient for itself. Anything that makes the individual merely contingent is irritating.
In the afternoon George Evans called and we played chess. I heard Mozart’s unfinished Mass in C minor in the evening. Very fine.
December 21 Thursday: I read the book on Havelock Ellis. At about 10 am. Edge called, but in view of the frost and fog we decided not to go out. He came again in the evening. He departs for London on Saturday.
“I often get depressed”, he said, “do you?”
“Of course. But you claimed to be the world’s greatest optimist.”
“I was,” he laughed.
“I always thought that it was because you were too busy.”
“I’m not busy now. But I’ve found a cure for depression. I either undertake something very difficult or undergo some definite hardship – live the tramp’s life for a time.”
“Hm. Asceticism. The sack-cloth monk.” He made a wry expression as if I were accusing him of abnormality.
“You must surely admit,” I said, “that abnormality is merely the over-development of the usual.” He assented and said something about shifting the responsibility from soul to body, a well-known mechanism. “But,” he concluded, “I thought it was good. I thought of it myself.”
“I’ve noticed,” I remarked, “that though depression lasts longer it is milder and goes along with an increasing self-confidence. Do you know there was a time I’d be embarrassed at going into a shop to buy something.”
“Yes”, he responded, “I used to be terribly self-conscious.”
I lent him Flinders-Petrie’s book.
In the afternoon I had seen Mrs Hunt who says that Leyton, the boy chess player, is shortly (January 18) to be lodged with her. His mother, a widow, is compelled to live in London. Hughes requested her. I went for ten minutes to Birkenhead Institute where I saw Jellicoe, to give him his due improved by Oxford, though he hasn’t a single idea of his own. All comers complimented me on my poem. Hughes asked me if I had any Welsh ancestry and I replied that I had. Halliday was with me, and told me that WHW will not speak to him now. So I took Halliday with me to WHW, but he talked to me only and all but ignored Halliday. Piggott was not there. Lunn was wearing a monstrous orange-coloured suit, his face flabby and his giggle degenerate. Wk was the empty priggish nitwit. Magee is said to be afraid of going near because of Hughes’s habit of asking, “Have you found a job yet?” Cathcart was amiable. I did not stop to see the play in which George Evans acted.
Mrs Hunt was George Wright’s landlady. WHW – WH Watts, the physics teacher, perhaps unfairly denied comparison with Allison. He was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and wrote a play called “The Horoscope” which I saw performed. I presume he would not speak to Halliday because he had taught him physics and he had failed in his degree. Watts was nearing 60, Allison a young man. The old teachers who might have taught Wilfred Owen were Watts, Woods (maths) and Bennett.
December 22 Friday: I read Flinders-Petrie’s other book on personal religion in Egypt before Christianity and made notes on it. It is a most thrilling subject. I also read Voltaire’s Le monde comme il va and Memnon. Voltaire is splendid. George Evans called in the morning. He said he hates Leyton who is lazy, impudent, barbarous and immensely popular, an inveterate bully moreover but very clever. Evans has done well in his exams.
December 23 Saturday: I discussed with George Wright what Mrs Hunt had said. Apparently Leyton’s father died 7 years ago and until his grandmother died 1 1/2 years ago he lived with her. The people he lived with since were only interested in pocketing the money and getting him out of the way. He was obliged to spend the evenings playing in the streets and was not even able to do his homework. His mother is a very polished and educated woman, but Mrs Hunt while “not wanting to be nasty-minded” has her doubts about her. Why should she live in London and not with the encumbrance of her son’s company? For “goodness knows she spends enough money on him.” Mrs Hunt then hints that her business is of a delicate and peculiar nature.
I went to the Library in the afternoon, bored of working. I borrowed Gibbon’s Decline and Fall – the volume I left off at. Later I read Thallassiaphyta which is very interesting. I was told, tardily, that Lawrence Batty had been.
I don’t think I ever met this Leyton, or wanted to. Mrs Hunt was a typical landlady and George Wright did not take much notice of her but enjoyed her malicious gossip.
December 24 Sunday: In the morning cards came from Mary Greaves [a paternal aunt, living in Portsmouth] (plus 2/6) and from Whelan and Halliday. I saw Lawrence Batty in the afternoon. It seems he was taken “on trial” at the Advertiser and on the expiry of the month was declared unsuitable. He has since been unemployed. He is a small brain, too stupid to know his own stupidity. I passed Alan Hodge in the street. He is a petty spirit puffing himself up hoping to pass for a grand oracle. Batty was presented with two books of poetry by Lunn. I called on Piggott. He was out but I remained with his relatives, improvising on the piano for their entertainment while they murmured approvingly, “It’s a gift.” A “gift” it certainly is, but it has been developed continuously over at least six years, probably longer. For I used to play by ear and transpose long before that.
December 25 Monday: I saw George Wright in the morning. It seems that Phyllis Mercer has expressed a desire to meet me. She is the one who lost my copy of Patriotism Ltd. for which Wright paid me 6p. He also brought a book from Phyllis Mercer called Ann Vickers by Sinclair Lewis. I walked with Wright in the afternoon. There were signs of rain – the first for months one would think. Only the last few days has the weather been mild enough to walk in the suburbs – there is so little “country” now that the word is losing its meaning. The sky and air seemed in suspended animation.
December 26 Tuesday: Today being a bank holiday nothing of any consequence occurred. I read Ann Vickers by Sinclair Lewis. He is guilty of Alan Morton’s pet aversion, the use of a scientific or technical term to evoke a quick but unclear response – “exhibitionism,” “perfectionism” and other rubbish.
December 27 Wednesday: In the morning George Evans called and after playing chess we went for a walk. While we were away Lunn (of all people) called. I met him in the afternoon. He says he plays in Donald Magee’s band and has received 1/- profit so far. Piggott’s dance is tomorrow evening. He is paying 15/- for their services. In the city I bought 3 copies of the Liverpool Post and Daily News which contained a short resume of my article on Owen. I borrowed the Revue Mondiale for December and a volume of Haydn’s sonatas. I am a poor sight-reader and wonder whether it would help to develop the art of reading a score without playing it. The trouble is that I lack visual imagination. I saw Halliday in the evening. He is going to Piggott’s dance.
December 28 Thursday: In the morning I called on Edge and met Westmore. In the afternoon the three of us walked to Raby, and then went to Westmore’s for tea. Westmore is terribly self-conscious. There is a looseness and listlessness about him that indicates a low vitality. But when his shyness is broken down he is quite interesting. He took only a small part in the conversation. As usual I did most of the talking. Edge said Alan Morton complained of lack of progress in his botanical researches. Westmore dislikes Southampton. As to literature he likes Wordsworth and Hazlitt but loathes Aldous Huxley. He dislikes jazz.
December 29 Friday: I saw George Wright but nothing has happened. I am in an odd state of emotional suspension. Throughout the autumn my energy has continued to recover but it cannot approach that of last winter. Since my poetry suddenly ceased with Cader Idris, its highest level yet, I have been concentrating on history. Momentum is gathering but I don’t feel well.
December 30 Saturday: I saw Magee at the Library, from which I borrowed On the Margin by Aldous Huxley, whom I am beginning to like. After leaving the Library I called on George Evans. He has to stay in at night to invigilate younger brothers, and regrets the death of his sister near his own age.
December 31 Sunday: I went for a walk in the afternoon and met among others Guthrie, Donald Magee and Evans 2, Clarkson and Green. The day was frosty but clear and fine. I saw Wright for a moment in the evening. I have been invited to give a talk upon art. I unified the odd strands of a long poem that has occupied me on and off since the recent rebirth and recast it as blank verse.
January 1 Monday: As it rained in the morning Evans did not come. I forget what I did for the rest of the day.
January 2 Tuesday: I called on Edge for a few minutes in the morning. In the afternoon I went to the Library and borrowed a book on colour as related to painting. I met Phyllis Mercer and MCh. at the Mercers with George Wright. Nothing occurred.
January 3 Wednesday: I went to Corwen with Edge and Westmore. They are very young, however. It was a pleasant excursion although we arrived late. They still cling to a queer kind of optimism.
The Poetry Society has greatly praised my latest efforts and again offer to print them at a price.
I have no recollection of this excursion which must have been by bicycle, an indication of the mild weather of the Thirties. But I have a vague memory of coming along the Chester Road, I think from Chester, but possibly from Queensferry, and Edge and Westmore being stopped by police for riding without a lamp. This certainly happened and this could be the only time.
January 4 Thursday: In the afternoon and evening Alan Morton was here. I am not at the moment going to say anything. After a few days thought I shall understand better and possibly find a flaw in his argument. Having seen so many Fascists in the south he has gone Communist. He is wildly enthusiastic over it. He says it spells an end to economic disorders (it probably does) and to political government by means of decentralisation. He is willing to put up with the dictatorship of the proletariat because in due course he trusts them to cease to dictate. According to what he says, Russia is not very Communist – this to my pointing out the political government is still in force there. But it is very Communist in not being addicted to war. One can appreciate that in an oecumene there is no motive for political oppression. But I can’t see an artistic renascence for some time.
January 5 Friday: George Wright called for a few minutes in the morning, and Halliday invited me to his place in the afternoon to escape Phyllis’s hen party [his sister’s]. He says Piggott and I see him about twice a week and begin with the formula, “I haven’t seen Greaves” or “I haven’t seen Piggott”, as the case may be. He wants to hold a “ceilidhe” on Monday. I went to the Library and called on George Evans for a short time. Later I read Roger Fry’s Vision and Design. I think I agree with him in the main.
January 6 Saturday: In the morning Halliday confirmed his announcement of Monday’s “ceilidhe”. This evening I went to the Quigley’s with the family.
January 7 Sunday: In the morning George Evans called for a few minutes. In the afternoon Piggott came. He said that it was Wk. who had linked my name with that of a certain young lady, whom I was supposed to have escorted to the Plaza cinema. He wanted to see what sort of gossip Lunn would make out of it. I deprecated such experiments.
In the evening Edge came and we talked and played chess until fairly late. He goes to Cambridge on Thursday. When I told him of Poetry Today’s offer he offered to subscribe for a copy. It is however only 2/1p.
January 8 Monday: Halliday’s “ceilidhe” was held tonight. Magee and Piggott were there. Piggott has to go to things alone as the fair one is in Hereford. I had seen George Wright at the Library whence I borrowed Andre Gide’s Ecole pour femmes and Benedetto Croce’s Esthetic.
January 9 Tuesday: In the day I cycled to Hawarden with George Evans and walked in the woods. Then we came home and played chess. Later I gave a lecture on art at Wesley. I was one of four. The other three were pedestrian, and read their papers out. I spoke extempore and, if I may say so, with eloquence. Indeed I was astonished at my own poise and volubility. I had notes in my pocket and once or twice looked at them, but without stopping. AEG and Mrs Quigley were there.
This was the Methodist Church on Church Road. I did not approve of religion but did this to please AEG.
January 10 Wednesday: Yesterday while I was out Edge called to return a book. I called this morning to say goodbye. We played a game of chess. In the afternoon Halliday called. Later I went to the Library and found a book much praised by the “great intellectual hebdomadary”, Elie Faure. It is an English translation of his History of Art. He is said to be a Communist. I think my apprenticeship to poetry is over. I propose to begin a long poem on Leonardo da Vinci. I have never been a spiritual pauper but just now I feel like a millionaire. What a pity life is so short! George Wright came.
January 11 Thursday: I returned to the University today, but did nothing. I was alarmed by the landslide in Botany – 12%. But it happens that everyone else has done badly too, but I worst. I finished Andre Gide’s Ecole des Femmes, which is a simple enough tale, but pleasant reading. I have decided I don’t like Benedetto Croce. Theories of art seem invariably to make their authors ridiculous. Perhaps Elie Faure will be better. I called on Mönch for a few minutes. He says his mother died on Xmas day. This morning on the boat Green said Dr Green is president of the Botanical Society and will treat us to long sanctimonious lectures. They have elected me to the Council. Green had seen a reference to Flinders Petrie’s book in the Manchester Guardian and lent me the cutting. He was very upset that Alan Morton had gone Communist.
January 12 Friday: In the day nothing happened. There is some kind of cockalorum among the wilder spirits who have dressed themselves up in overalls in preparation for a grand mêlée. At the Old Boys Chess Club I played Mr Moat and Li simultaneously, winning the second, but finally losing the first game.
Cockalorum. This may refer to some kind of student “rag”. I had no time for such things. Regarding the chess, it was ambitious enough to take on Charles Moat alone.
January 13 Saturday: At present nothing happens that has any meaning. The old schoolboyish structure of Prenton has broken down. Nothing of it remains but John Piggott’s friendly commercialism. Life seems a miniature of world politics, a mass of incoherent upheavals. That I have devoted little space to philosophy of late does not mean that I am now indifferent to it, but I have found nothing to remove a profound exasperation with men and matters. I am drifting back to “Art for Art’s sake”, art as a substitute for life, that ugly thing.
From the Library I borrowed Santayana’s book of essays (1913). The wisdom of earth is foolishness in places other than heaven! I have the “Egmont” Overture running through my head all the time. I have really gone for Beethoven this last six months. I wonder why the music I like best always seems to be groping for something lacking, perhaps less in Mozart or in Bach’s gayer mode, less still in Haydn. It has been said that in listening to music one is outside time as duration. I have tried to notice the passage of time and to say “Now I am playing D sharp minor. It is no use. I am unable to say when I enjoyed it, but the pleasure ceased with the playing. It is clear that memory and anticipation interplay. The same is true of poetry and novels. It must be a property of art in general. But what of painting?
January 14 Sunday: Nothing much happened. I called on Piggott for a while. I started to read Elie Faure’s book, and like it so far. I like authors for different reasons, but particularly if the style suits me, even if their opinions are not mine. I have fallen out with Nietzsche and dislike Santayana, Croce and Julian Huxley.
January 15 Monday: I read Maxim Gorky’s Creatures that once were men. I met Westmore’s father on the ‘bus. “Did you hear about the police?” he asked. I said No.
“Well, Kenneth had a summons to appear at Ellesmere Port District Court. Jack Edge will be worse off. He hadn’t a reflector.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“I’ve written to the police telling them the circumstances and he’ll probably have a 5/- fine. Jack Edge will be worse off still.” He treated it as a huge joke and roared with laughter. In the evening I called on Bennett. He has been reading Thomas Hardy. Donald Magee pushed a note through the door accepting an invitation to my party. Bennett is coming, having put off a visit to St Helen’s.
January 16 Tuesday: I called at Alan Hodge’s ‘s place in the evening but saw only his mother. She said that at his age it is natural to pose and pretend, and that he was not so averse to jollification as he tried to make out, and at Christmas, indeed, his good humour was notorious. I am not sure about Hodge. Like Pr. he is petty in many of his ways. I cannot understand entirely “selfish” people, though I admit they are logical, as far as their logic goes. I ought to say that at present my mental energy is tremendous.
Pr. would be James Pritchard, my rival as the “cleverest boy” in the various classes we were in. In fact, though I believe I always took the top place, we got on well. He had much more regard for me than I for him and I took no steps to keep in touch. He was of more proletarian background than those of us in Prenton. His father was a railwayman. Pritchard was a socialist long before any of us. But there was a negative streak. He became a civil servant. I presume his family could not afford to send him to the university. There were no grants then. When I last met him he was very disenchanted.
January 17 Wednesday: Whom should I see at the Library but Darlington’s friend Wheat. He had not seen Darlington for some time. The poisoning had occurred while his family were in Manchester. Wheat says Darlington likes cider and ginger wine and rum. He is always complaining of indigestion, and no wonder, for at times he will eat nothing for two or three days and then gorge himself. I saw Hunt(?) who dilated on the folly of Donald Magee who throws his cleverness away, and Wm. who has banned the Sphinx.
Hunt? Possibly Mrs Hunt’s son. Sphinx, the University Magazine.
January 18 Thursday: I met Mills who said Darlington took seriously dreams that schoolboys discarded at their twelfth year. He said Darlington officiated as housewife, cooking meat and bread while his mother played golf. He lives on patent tablets and Ovaltine. Then whom should I meet but Darlington himself who is coming to my party. I wrote to George Evans. I have written to Les Nouvelles Litteraires and am sending my poems back to Poetry of Today.
January 19 Friday: I did little in the day. George Evans called to accept my invitation. Alan Hodge wrote declining. He is going to see St. Joan at the Winter Gardens. I played Mr Moat at chess, losing twice and drawing once. The openings were unorthodox.
January 20 Saturday: My party was held tonight – Donald Magee, George Evans, Halliday, Darlington, Piggott and Bennett were there. Bennett for all his questions and religiosity has a spitefulness and snobbery not to be missed. With seeming innocence he asked Piggott, “Do you have to wear evening dress at your dances?” Piggott replied in the negative and Bennett’s tone underwent a total change. “Oh, Don’t you?” he demanded in great surprise. “The game’s not worth a candle,” said Piggott, “We’ve tried it.”
January 21 Sunday: Today nothing occurred. Hodge called after I had gone to Piggott’s, where nothing happened.
January 22 Monday: In the evening Hodge called. He is developing a stocky middle-aged figure which will please him as he has an aversion to displaying his youth of which he is hypersensitively conscious. On the whole he is rather a fool. But, at all events, he has won a scholarship to London University and is relieved of problems of sustenance for another four years.
January 23 Tuesday: In the evening I obeyed an invitation from Mrs Pyke to take coffee with her at 9 pm. She knows the Wetherall family and Bridge’s elder brother. Her own son, whom she holds in such high esteem, merits it only in matters of muscularity.
Had I read Proust I would have recognised this more clearly as an entry into local “society”. Pyke was a jeweller and his wife, formerly Lilian Rushton, was a well-known singer and would, I think certainly, have sung for CEG at his concerts. For many years she used go to concerts with AEG and I thought nothing of it. One evening at Piggott’s I happened to mention that AEG was at something with Mrs Pyke and was quite taken aback with the impression it made. It never occurred to me that people would look up to a jeweller. The Wetheralls (supra) were part of the local bourgeoisie.
January 24 Wednesday: Westmore played a chess match and drew, but I lost, putting a rook where a bishop could take it – while I was winning easily. Theaken has retired so I will be secretary for the rest of the season. The second team is to be disbanded. I took Aldous Huxley’s Do what you will from the Library.
January 25 Thursday: I was much distressed by a swelling near my left eye and a pain on my left side which has worried me for months. If it does not improve speedily I shall take medical advice. George Wright came to play chess and I won.
January 26 Friday: The eye recovered but I did not go to the university today. The pain also disappeared till evening. I am going to enquire about it when I go to pay the doctor’s bill. I played chess in the evening losing against Charles Moat and George Wright, and winning against Richmond. I am beginning to improvise in the romantic style.
January 27 Saturday: George Wright called in the afternoon bringing a message from Phyllis Mercer, an invitation to her 21st birthday party. I went to the Library in the evening and saw Humphries. There is a new French paper just out that he promises to get me particulars of. I borrowed Proust’s Swann’s Way (Scott Moncrieff translation). I prefer to read English. When I opened it late at night I immediately recognised that here before me was a new country, a veritable “Proustia”.
January 28 Sunday: I grew tired of waiting for George Evans in the afternoon, yet hardly had I gone out when he arrived. I was only out 20 minutes and on returning took some Epsom salts, though it is probably the right medicine for ailments I don’t possess. I saw John Piggott in the evening. He tells me he “never drops an acquaintance.” He now runs a somewhat commonplace “rambling club”. I found his eulogies of Keates and Wk. somewhat tiresome.
January 29 Monday: I felt ill in the afternoon and was forced to come home.
January 30 Tuesday: I was at home all day feeling wretched. I read Proust. The Liverpool Botanical Society secretary wrote to inform me officially that I have been elected to the Council.
January 31 Wednesday: In the morning I read the Eugenics Review at the Picton. It strongly attacks the opinion that in-breeding is harmful and advocates incest as a means of “race-purification”. But even according to Flinders Petrie it is only when races are mixed that a decadent civilisation recovers. The Aryan races have not yet produced a civilisation of their own. They have taken the Egyptian and Iberian “phase” and mingled with the European aborigines. There seems to be no genetical connection between civilization and nationality. Continuity of tradition is probably of more consequence than crossings and breedings. In the evening I went to Dido and Aeneas by the University music society. Mrs Threlfall’s nephew took the part of Aeneas.
The Threlfalls were friends of the family. The connection was probably musical. They were strong Labour supporters. The wife was a daughter of Captain Brown, a sea-captain.
February 1 Thursday: I called on George Evans in the evening. He is in the final of his (3rd Div.) chess tournament.
February 2 Friday: Nothing important occurred today. I played chess in the evening winning three games against Wright and Lilley.
February 3 Saturday: I distributed the chess notices in the morning and called at Birkenhead Institute and had a long talk with Hughes. He suggested my trying to find a position in some country county school in Wales, Cornwall or Yorkshire where there would be some boys for chemistry and some girls for botany. He says he will make an attempt at drawing Professor Campagnac’s attention to my poetry with the object of finding me some comfortable place where I can write in at least moderate peace. He will advertise the Old Boys’ Chess Club, and back the Joint Learned Society scheme. This was a good morning’s work.
In the evening I went to Phyllis Mercer’s 21st birthday party. MCh was there, George Wright not, owing to a previous engagement. Howells (of the university Lacrosse) was there and Elsie Scragg (of all people! – now a botanist in the 1st year). A person to whom Keats introduced me on the boat some time ago, a drama enthusiast, an art student with Keats, proves to be a worker of sorts. The Liverpool Workers’ club were very enthusiastic about him, so he can’t be very good. Besides he spent two thirds of the evening in the lounge, cuddling. I don’t know who the girl was. He is in the dramatic club at Bebington and knows Hodge, whom he likes better than I do, and says he acts well. He knows H.Shepherd and M. Baker who will never be any good.
February 4 Sunday: It was 3 am. before I reached home. George Evans came in the afternoon to have a game of chess, and said he is now in the semi-final of his tournament. In the evening I went to Louis Cohen’s concert. In the middle of very groany modernistic numbers, a battered old workman in the 9d orchestra seats rose with dignity, put on his hat in a very deliberate fashion, buttoned up his coat and walked loudly but majestically to the door. Those players who were not blowing something tittered. Members of the audience said Sh! Sh! But as he went through the door he turned defiantly and glared at the conductor. However the piece finished then so he came back for the rest of his nine-pennorth.
February 5 Monday: I was still unwell. How barmy I was to drink that Magnesium Sulphate. I ought to have left not too bad alone.
February 6 Tuesday: I remained at home all day, and read Arthur Macken’s Shining Pyramid and Huxley’s Proper Studies. The former was recommended by Westmore. In the evening I went to the Liverpool Botanical Society. Dallman has published a most virulent attack on Dr TC Green’s new Liverpool flora. However one dislikes Green, Dallman is inexcusable. Green was furious. He is going to force Dallman to publish TC Green’s remarks in the report of our meeting in the North Western Naturalist. As far as Dallman’s Flora of Flint and Denbigh is concerned, FH Green (against Dr Lee’s warning advice) sent him a guinea years ago, and not a sign of it has been seen. Donald Magee wanted to expel Dallman from the society II:II. Green brought some paper on which to affix pressed flowers and send them round schools.
Green 2 (FH Green) was Gn’s (HE Green’s) brother. The symbol II:II is Morse for M-I-M which telegraphists insert when what they are sending is to be understood as a joke. A double M-I-M means the sender is laughing.
February 7 Wednesday: I am afraid I am in no better health today. However AEG obtained, at my expense, a bottle of whiskey which I trust will be a palatable and powerful analeptic. I am beset by a most alarming variety of pains.
February 8 Thursday: I remained at home all day, apart from struggling to the Library in the afternoon, borrowing Flecker’sDon Juan, which is not, I think, brilliant. I think my health is improving. The odd pains have gone, leaving in return a sore throat.
February 9 Friday: I feel completely cured. The fact may be that this pain in my chest was not the result of the Barnes accident, but the Ffestiniog illness. I bought Maxim Gorky’s Man who was afraid (from a something or other) and Gissing’s Odd Woman. I saw Hodge and Keats on the boat, and took the tram with Keats as likely to have more interesting conversation. He is suffering from chronic megalomania – “swelled head” to put it plainly. Also he is a poseur. He complains of lack of energy. I distinctly saw piles of poetic MSS in his secret store last week when his mother assisted me to find my own. A poetic fat-Pritchard. What anathema! Keats said that one of Robinson’s plays is to be done by the play-club in Liverpool. He read some of his poetry at the art school; it was humorous verse and according to Keats very good. Keats was at the British Art Exhibition in London last week.
In the evening at the chess match we lost 2-5. The David Lawns now take our place at the head of the division. I won. Halliday defaulted (he is not really a member but took the place of Richmond who is ill), Whalley lost, Green lost, Wood drew and George Wright drew. My man played the Zakentort which developed into a kind of Byrd opening to which I played P-QB4.
I was unwell while on holiday at a farm called Gellidywyll, near Gellilydan, above Maentwrog in late July l932. This was only biliousness due to eating the rich farm fare and running and jumping too much. A few days later I cycled to Dolgellau, over the Dines Mawdelwy and as far as Llanbrynmair on the hottest day of the century, when the thermometer reached 99.5 at Tonbridge. I then took the train to Ludlow. No sign of sickness there. The other was a minor bicycle accident in Barnes.
February 10 Saturday: From the Library I borrowed Flecker’s Hassan and Since Cezanne, a book of essays by Clive Bell. I saw Humphries and later called on Evans.
February 11 Sunday: I wrote to Edge today. “Les nouvelles litteraires” told me they would publish my advertisement in “correspondence”.
February 12 Monday: In the laboratory Jackson and I discussed foreign politics. It seems that China has banned European script, so that 8000 characters must be used. But in Turkey is it now illegal to use – Turkish characters. Jackson aptly commented “Alas the vanity of human hope!” I read Thallassiaphyta.
February 13 Tuesday: Nothing happened. I have only just appreciated the immense strides I have made in music this winter. The whole new territory of the Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert idioms has been acquired for my extemporization. Speed, delicacy of touch and melodiousness have all improved.
February 14 Wednesday: In the evening I borrowed Les jeunes filles en fleur of Proust. George Wright came to play chess. I had in the afternoon delivered the chess notices. Richmond’s father told me that his son is in the infirmary in danger that a septic eye might affect his brain. I also saw the exhibition of Greek art at the Walker Gallery.
February 15 Thursday: Nothing important occurred. My health is improved and but for an occasional faint nausea, I am cured, and I am beginning to plot a grand new work.
February 16 Friday: I saw Hodge on the boat. He has a scholarship for London but wants one for Oxford. But, posing as ever, he says, “I may not stay to take a degree.” As for me I see in one handful the days before my liberation. Let me but pass, this June, and I need do no more chemistry. At chess there were Lilley and Collinson. I saw Halliday, Magee etc., also MEd. who said that Edge and Westmore were fined 10/- each, and Halliday corroborated this. His father had got it from Mr Westmore.
MEd. would be Margaret Edge, Edge’s sister, a very decent girl, older than Edge.
February 17 Saturday: I went to Afon wen with George Evans, lunched in the Pwllgwyn Tavern and returned with great benefit to my health for I wrote the beginning of an ode.
February 18 Sunday: The spring-like weather has stimulated me. I finished the ode in the morning. In an hour’s walk I planned a complete “Magnum opus”, a “dynast” play, and the first act of it had hardly been scribbled in general outline when the first few lines of verse wrote themselves without apparent effort on my part.
February 19 Monday: There is no doubt Colqhoun loathes his botany and zoology. His cloak of coarseness is rarely doffed – but it slips off so easily that it has to be hauled up again with an effort. But his desire for anonymity is not respected. The others recognise that he is not really one of them and tease him. They do not (openly at least) laugh at me. I am too well armed – the “sarcastic drivel” can silence them. But lacking this Colqhoun can only try to chameleon himself if not into their favour into their toleration. But with me he occasionally unveils. “Why did you take botany?” I asked. His reaction surprised me, his face expressing the intense hatred of an animal about to spring on its tormentor. He was trembling like fat Pritchard did in his impotent fury at the school system. Indeed I was momentarily taken aback. “Science!” he spat. “You keep on ramming your head against the mass of organised knowledge!” “Organised ignorance”, I said. “Yes. They know nothing. Art is the true occupation of humanity.” I laughed, at his vehemence, not at his opinion. “Well – isn’t it?” I gave a very definite assent. I could see at the same time that he doubted himself. On one occasion he said of his school days that he did not “fit in”.
I think Colq attended the “Holt” school where Riddell 1 and Riddell 2 went. They taught biology. The head teacher wahouns influential in the City and brought back the Youth Hostel Movement from Germany.
February 20 Tuesday: I did nothing in the day. My play is progressing well.
February 21 Wednesday: There was a chess match against Aintree in the evening. We lost the match and I my umbrella.
February 22 Thursday: I saw Darlington on the boat. “If only they were all Celts here”, he said, “we shouldn’t have any Fascists about. It’s those people with the damned Teutonic blood in ’em. Phew! This bloody Prussian-Roman idea. I’d go mad if they had Fascism here.” His companion had told me that Darlington “thinks the discipline at the school is terrible, while we really do as we like.” Hm. I agree with Darlington.
February 23 Friday: I played chess in the evening. Halliday said his brother Bryce is interested in chess and would like the loan of a book about it.
February 24 Saturday I saw George Evans in the evening, and borrowed Flinders-Petrie’s Religion in Ancient Egypt.
February 25 Sunday: I finished the first movement of my play – about 220 lines in a week, a piece of intensive activity which has kept me emotionally exhausted. I saw Piggott in the evening. Charles Moat was there.
February 26 Monday: At the music recital to which I drew his attention Hodge appeared with a somewhat gossipy young lady. His friend Norman Suckling was playing. They passed me on Brownlow Hill, but though I think he imagined I would stop, I passed on. I can’t quite make Hodge out. I lean to the puffed frog theory at present. In the evening I called on Bennett for a short time.
February 27 Tuesday: About 9 pm. a boy of 16, very raggedly dressed, came trying to sell kettle-holders. I didn’t want one but gave him 2d. George Wright called and we played chess. I am not playing well at present. We won one each. In music it is different. My technique is very much improved. In poetry this week does not rival last, the brightest I have ever had. But I find it hard to turn my mind off Egypt and Minoa to Britain and Chemistry.
February 28 Wednesday: Nothing important happened. I borrowed Clive Bell’s Civilisation and sat up till 1.30 am. reading it to the end. Also Massingham’s Downland Man which is prolix but intriguing.
March 1 Thursday: Nothing much happened today. I saw Darlington in the afternoon, and spent the evening reading Botany.
March 2 Friday: The weather is moderately warm, although I hear there has been snow in distant parts. What is amazing is the continual sunshine and drought. I played chess in the evening. Leyton is to go to the Hunts, says Wright. I heard from Halliday that Paris senior was teaching his class when Hughes the headmaster interrupted his lesson, a temerity which led to a serious altercation with “Keep your temper” on both sides. “I’d as soon resign,” said Paris. “Oh! – will you resign today?” says his lordship. Russell the caretaker confirms the interference but thinks Paris will not resign. This matter will go before the authorities in whose good graces Hughes has not flourished, though he has tried intermittently to placate them. All seem to think it will go badly for Hughes, but I have heard nobody explain why it will not be bad for Paris to a far greater degree. Charles Moat played us twice simultaneously. I drew one game. The other time he won.
Paris was a teacher at Birkenhead Institute – his son was a youngster at the Wirral County School – hence the “senior”. Paris had periodical flare-ups. It may have been shortly after this one that I met him on the ‘bus, and expressed sympathy. “Indeed”, he said, “Some of these people are a submerged tenth, halfway between man and the animals.” I got on with Paris. He taught French and business studies. He never taught me.
March 3 Saturday: From the Library I borrowed Herodotus’s history, having finished Massingham’s book which is long but sound, I think. Also Thucydides.
March 4 Sunday: I read Gibbon’s autobiography right through. I am not working and feel depressed.
March 5 Monday: Nothing happened today. I read some botany in the evening.
March 6 Tuesday: In the evening I went to the Liverpool Botanical Society. Green, Mönch, Donald Magee and FE were there. He has not a powerful intelligence. He cannot give the essential point he intends to make and pads out his argument with superfluities and incidentals. It is amusing when Green has the prospect of a new member he always says, “Well it was rather a small meeting tonight. I’m sure I don’t know where they’ve all got to.” He then gives a list of absentees, even though the meeting is the best of the year.
March 7 Wednesday: I tried to do the fresh part of my play but can’t “get it going”. Sir Norman Angell gave a very interesting and much applauded address at the university. Pacifist feeling runs particularly high here, I am glad to say. Perhaps it may one day be clear that we may as well be misgoverned by Hitler as MacDonald, and much better that than killed by both of them. One recalls the indemnity paid by Germany for the repair of bombed homes. Their owners never got a penny. The highest court pronounced that they had a strong “moral” right to the money, but no “legal” right, and law is law. I wrote to the LDPM under the pseudonym “Delta”.
Angell was a very small man and wore a coat with a heavy fur-trimmed collar. Of course he could not persuade states to forego their sovereignty. At this stage of course Nazism was not fully understood by any of us [Hitler had become German Chancellor in January]. I don’t think my letter was published. My first letter to the Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury was published (I think) in the autumn of 1931, on economics.
March 8 Thursday: I decided to finish my play in Egypt as the situation is too good to be wasted in an experiment. This necessitates much very hard thinking. I shall therefore not read Thucydides yet, but keep Herodotus only. George Wright is infatuated with Dilys Evans and according to Mrs Hunt is “making a fool of himself”.
March 9 Friday: There was nobody at chess tonight, Wright being at Evans’s as he was on Wednesday and Thursday. But, says his landlady, he is catholic in his tastes and will grow sentimental over the slenderest qualifications. I saw Charles Moat late at night. A staff meeting was held to discuss Paris’s alarming defection. It lasted till 7 pm. Russell told me that Hughes had lost control over the corporation bureaucracy who know his bark to be worse than his bite, and send his coal late, and only half of what he asks, and will not do his repairs.
This seems to indicate that Paris walked out on them. But I can’t remember anything about it.
March 10 Saturday: I exchanged Thucydides for a volume of Drinkwater’s plays. In the evening, having read in the paper of a play to be given by the RFHS drama club, a very good report of their previous performances drew me to Lawrence Batty’s and in due course I saw She stoops to conquer, by Goldsmith, very admirably done. RFHS is the most civilised of Liverpool schools. They held a grand scientific soirée on Wednesday. Tonight some music was played by their orchestra, and a song written by Batty’s friend Lethbridge who is a good pianist – I heard him myself and noted his delicate but firm touch.
March 11 Sunday: Nothing important occurred. CEG [ie.his father] is in high glee because of the success of his broadcast last night. He likes the sensation of celebrity. But I believe he did very well indeed and deserves it.
March 12 Monday: I was told by Halliday (from Mrs Magee) that Donald Magee is hoping to go to the teachers’ training college at Chester. Then Jackson gave me the surprising information that Paris is labouring under an attack of double pneumonia, and could easily die. “He will need every ounce of his strength to pull through.”
March 13 Tuesday: The Nouvelles Litteraires published my letter, and today I got a reply from a teacher in Valence-sur-Rhone. Elle ne s’interesse qu’aux arts. Was I interested in “une” correspondent? Or was I one of those who thought “Les femmes ne doivent que fair le porridge?” She has just spent a year in England and wishes she were back. I wrote back and assured her that “une” was as good as “un”.
March 14 Wednesday: I am informed that Paris’s pneumonia is passing. The crisis was last Friday. I went to CEG’s affair. Sir Norman Angell spoke and pacifist feeling ran very high.
March 15 Thursday: Nothing occurred. Occasionally I do a little at my play. The old grievances remain, but as the end is almost in sight, I find them just supportable.
March 16 Friday: There was a chess match, School versus staff, which staff (Charles Moat, Morris, Allison, Hughes, Watts etc.) lost 4-3. Later George Wright beat me 4 times. He claimed I was playing badly, I that he played well, for I utterly routed Hunt a few minutes later – twice. There was a botany examination in the morning in which I did well enough to venture to think the slump arrested. I went home with Halliday who told me he is in a bad state as regards BSc.
March 17 Saturday: In the evening I borrowed Proust’s 2nd volume from the Library, also Middleton Murry’s Evolution of an Intellectual. I remember wishing to borrow it from the old library, but didn’t want the girl who stamped the books to think me priggish. I wanted to be an “intellectual” but had gathered it was slightly “inadmissible”. I had not yet discovered that the only way to treat the wind is to sail right into it. The book is far from epoch-making, not even first-rate of its kind, but has a passing interest. It is certainly extremely bitter and terribly 20th century, crying over spilt illusions. It might have had a profound effect if I had read it as a boy. George Evans was telling me of a friend of his who is being helped in his biology by Arthur Hyatt Williams. He doesn’t like him but nobody else can do it. Evans reports, not with complete disapproval, some of the sycophantic talk Williams indulges in, about “getting on” by flattering up the professors. Such opinions are a menace to all I stand for.
March 18 Sunday: I saw Piggott in the evening and then read some Botany. Piggott had called on Friday while I was out.
March 19 Monday: The botany examination was easier than I expected. I called to George Evans’s to collect library books I left there on Saturday.
March 20 Tuesday: I went to the university today. Jackson was there, finishing his practical work in as cynical a manner as he could. Tiredness is hostile to good honest full-blooded cynicism. Hard work had certainly left its mark on one whose ready wit surprises me in view of his limited cultural background. The folly of others irritates but flatters George Wright; it tickles Jackson.
March 21 Wednesday: In the afternoon I went to Heswall and called on Darlington. He declared his sole joy was laughter, the only pleasure that obliterates the consciousness of what one is not enjoying. But there is less of the boyish satanism about him now. Life does not let one throw up the sponge without a struggle. This is dawning on him. Mrs Darlington brought some lobster on to the table, but could not persuade him to eat any. “Think what it must feed on! Ugh!” For my part I consumed it with as much relish as an incipient cold permitted. Darlington decided not to go to his evening school but to invite himself to my place. He carefully and ostentatiously collected up his chemistry books and we boarded his “Rolls Royce” as he calls the Crosville ‘bus. He is now all for “tolerance.” Hitlerism has caused this reaction. Also mysticism which puts me somewhat out of rapport since I have more or less resigned myself to living “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” He is also a congenital puritan. He was surprised when I gave examples of great sexual latitude in periods of high civilisation. Edge came while I was out.
March 22 Thursday: In the afternoon I called on Edge at 2 pm. and stayed till midnight. Westmore was there till 5. He was in an odd truculent mood. We denounced war – out of a respectable concern for our skins. “Well,” says Westmore, “I wish I had been in the last war. And I’d fight in the next too. My father was a private in the front line. The sergeant used to try to kill him off. He wouldn’t polish his buttons, so he sent him into the front line as often as possible. But they didn’t have a very bad time, a lot of those chaps didn’t. I don’t see why I shouldn’t, dash it, my father did. You have quite a good chance of coming through.” This sounded like Alice in Wonderland, especially the buttons, and the punctuation with “damn it alls” and “dash its”.
We found later he had been living three months with a Nazi. So we gently and persuasively disembarrassed him of his illusions, taking them one by one and demolishing each as he produced it. But he was only convinced by the most emotional of our arguments. English soil will have to be well watered with tears before its intellectual barrenness will be fertilized. Westmore was proud to be a “Nordic,” vaunted his physique, and accused us of being “Iberian.” It meant nothing to us, but we demonstrated from our cephalic indices that like most people of Celtic origin we were not dolichocephalic, though for my part I don’t believe in it. Anyway poor Westmore is suffering mental growing pains, trying to cling to well-worn emotional artefacts – patriotism, morals and religion. Of course both Edge and I are afraid of death; nonentity does not appeal to us. But fear leads one to brook no delay in knowing the worst. But this is Westmore, “Of course I hold no brief for morals, but. . .” Lip-service to amorality; heart-service to sentimentalism. That’s English! But Edge’s sister, at tea, loudly upheld pacifism, and then we played chess until late.
A letter from Geneva invited me to become associated with the “Ordre universelle du merite humain”, seemingly a secret society.
I did not pursue the “ordre universelle”. Its constitution was authoritarian. For years I suspected it might have been French intelligence. It occurs to me now it may have been Nazi-promoted.
March 23 Friday: At chess I lost. My brilliant queen sacrifice proved an error of judgement. I borrowed Holbrook-Jackson’s Eighteen-Nineties. Lawrence Batty called to say Lethbridge wanted to visit me.
March 24 Saturday: In the evening I went to Handel’s Acis and Galatea and Verdi’s Requiem, performed by the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union. The Welsh audience is however most badly behaved. There was talking all the time and laughter at some of the Verdian climaxes.
March 25 Sunday: I saw Piggott in the evening. Donald Magee and Richardson arrived, the latter already oozing so to speak into his role of jovial parson, as merry as a cow, and equally graceful. Magee had encountered Darlington who threw at him, “D’you call this a civilisation?” “Hm”, says Magee, “It is rather a veneer.” When they went away Piggott and Mrs Piggott discussed Rhydymwyn where they had spent the day.
“I didn’t like the look of some of those campers there,” said Piggott, “They were carrying too many blankets.” A few minutes previously, when Piggott was out of the room his mother declared, “John never says anything that is not quite . . . ” That did stop her from following her suspicions. But why shouldn’t they get what pleasures they can when they’re young?
March 26 Monday: I was at Edge’s from 2 pm. to 10. He is looking for a career abroad. His mother accuses him of wanting to make money and then run away. “Well, I’ll give it all away before I go if that will satisfy you.” But it didn’t satisfy her. He soothed his not so foolish as fond parent by promising, unbelieved but credited with laudable intentions, to take them all with him.
March 27 Tuesday: I expected Colqhoun to come today. But there was nobody at Woodside. I’ve forgotten the date we agreed. I hope it isn’t tomorrow for Alan Morton is coming. Let’s hope he has forgotten also. I heard Bach’s St.Matthew Passionon the wireless. I had violent pains in the night.
March 28 Wednesday: In the afternoon I met Alan Morton at Woodside. Colqhoun arrived as well. Alan has a brand new sandy moustache. I think he felt he looked too youthful without one. At first I thought Colqhoun would be a fish out of water. But he was not. Alan Morton said he was a materialist. I asked him why he had been so annoyed at my materialism a year ago. “Merely silly,” he said, then added, “I think one approaches these matters dialectically.” Colqhoun was greatly impressed at my verse which is certainly improving. But Alan thinks poetic plays are doomed to failure. He is going back to Cambridge in a week to do some work. Colqhoun on the other hand is the world’s last idealist. He is still struggling with free will, immortality of the soul, and other things one first weeps over, then disbelieves, and then sees they are silly questions.
March 29 Thursday: I cycled with Edge to Cynwyd and we climbed Moel Henfaes (1897ft.). I found myself very weak and incapable of climbing without many rests. Edge continued to ply me with peppermints, until I observed he was depriving himself. There was a wonderful view of the Berwyns under snow. We were above the snow line. But back in Corwen while having tea, I found my heart beating at an appalling rate, and I felt cold with a pain near my heart. I was so alarmed that it was decided I would go home by train which I did. I took 3 1/2 hours to get home from Corwen. I suppose I shall have to see a doctor. Edge, like myself, is fully socialist, but I do not think it is my business to do politics. As for Alan Morton, more power to his communist elbow.
March 30 Friday: George Wright was bored by the holiday and came this morning instead of waiting for evening. AEG told me that Lawrence Batty had called saying that Lethbridge was not coming on Tuesday. I called on Batty. Mrs Batty said Lethbridge Senior put up a hedge or enfencement round the young fellow so as to protect his talents from abuse. However if he’s any good it will not matter. They may anyway have suspected a stratagem by CEG, recently styled the “distinguished Methodist musician”, to get his services free.
Later Edge came to see if I had survived. He had arrived home at 11.5 pm. I explained to him that whenever I felt ill I thought I was dying, and when I felt better I would forget about it.
March 31 Saturday: I saw Piggott in the morning, and later called on George Evans who has not seen me of late. He is at Heswall, a place from which on his late announcement of very heterodox views on religion he had believed himself barred for ever. I then wrote to Mlle. Adelin, and reconsidered a study of jazz, which, hearing Colqhoun’s declaration of interest in it, Alan Morton had asserted to be “the chief sign of the degeneracy of bourgeois art; it is degrading and blinding to the sensibilities.” This view I did not forget to emphasise to Edge who once loathed it and now at times likes it. I can understand however from my own experience that it may be difficult to resist it.
I called on Donald Magee and of course found Evans 2 as well. Magee lent me the necessary literature, and played records illustrating its development from the 1890’s comedy song to the present day.
April 1 Sunday: I called at Hodge’s but learned he was camping at Ruthin with some school friends. I learned he went on a cycle tour last Easter – but kept it dark. He’s oddly secretive. I finished the first part of the Jeune fille en fleurs. I have attempted the post-Wagnerian and am actually trying to extemporise modern music.
April 2 Monday: I did nothing all day, but in the evening called on George Wright and after a battle royal defeated him in a game of chess that lasted 2 1/2 hours. He has had so much practice of late that the Hunts thought him invulnerable. I argued for Communism. He said he was gradually being led that way. Hodge called while I was out.
April 3 Tuesday: In the afternoon I went to Heswall to call on Darlington and again argued for Communism and convinced him. Darlington’s father has the air of success. He never speaks now; he shouts. “Look at those be-oo-tiful tulips there,” he bawled. I saw Lawrence Batty. He has decided, after reading HG Wells’s silly book After Democracy, to found a new political party. When I suggested that this might be difficult he replied that he was not in a hurry. An obscure youth in Bebington without brains or capital! I borrowed Strachey’s Coming struggle for power and CE Montague’s Dramatic Values.
April 4 Wednesday: In the morning Halliday and I discussed Communism. He dislikes my assaults on the Boy Scouts, while deploring the demand of a British Legion centre that local Scout “troops” should pass no more pacifist motions. This implies that they have some financial control over them. We played chess and I won. In the evening I rang up Ro (Bernard Robinson). He was at the Cooperative Society Centre rehearsing a play. I saw him there. He told me to my surprise that Hodge knows Phyllis Mercer very well. He has kept it dark from both myself and George Wright. He himself had walked to Burton with Hodge this afternoon. I argued for communism. I can scarcely believe that George Wright has never met Hodge at Phyllis Mercer’s.
April 5 Thursday: In the morning Hodge called for a short time. I said nothing about Robinson. In the evening having worked on my poetic colloquy I went to Ness to see Green who is now on the local council. On the road to Neston, in our fast urbanizing district, people talk to you as they would in the deep country. A small householder was full of Green’s success. Green’s opponent was his employer, who had tried to win on the votes of his work people. Green strongly deprecated the urge to Communism, illustrated in Alan Morton and myself. He supported gradualism. But communism itself is gradual enough.
April 6 Friday: In the morning Robinson called bringing a play which is a farcical curtain-raiser, satirical but not in the least original, also rather lacking in attack. He says he left Phyllis Mercer’s party early because the jazz was too objectionable. It was; he is right in that. It was played by a slightly tipsy youth on a machine simulating a piano. I defended my theory of intellectual imagery (in my poetry). The theory grew out of practice so I am not a slave to it. Halliday was there.
Later I borrowed the second part of the Jeune fille en fleur. I have reason to think Hodge has the English translation but he pretends to read always the French. Finally I called at 48 North Road and learned that Edge left on Tuesday afternoon, staying the first night at Oswestry, and the second at Ludlow where he left Westmore and R.E., reaching Talgarth by himself the next night. I played chess with his father. I accepted his Kings Gambit but I defeated him by positional play. This surprised him for he is better than Edge. I had a beautiful forced win.
April 7 Saturday: I think my new poem is going to be worth publishing. I went to the Library and borrowed Shelley’s prose writings, and if anything ever showed the superiority of genius to its age, this was it. His essay on poetry is remarkable. The more one reads the more one sees that the moderns have merely added malice and a scientific veneer to what was said long ago far better. Shelley was of the opinion that a baby’s sucking milk was a sexual act. So is Freud. George Evans was at the Library and I went home with him. His biologist friend stays at Great Saughall. This explains his knowing Arthur Hyatt Williams. Evans is struggling against a vicar intent on inveigling him into a bible class, and he an agnostic! For my part I marvel that so many people call themselves agnostics and not atheists outright. It does not appear that the universe has any meaning for us.
April 8 Sunday: I called on George Wright to apprise him of what Robinson had said, that Hodge knows Phyllis Mercer. Wright was astonished. He admits that a certain peculiarity of manner towards him on the part of Phyllis Mercer has recently aroused his suspicions. She has talked about “Alan”, whom he took to be Alan Wallace. But he has felt that something was being hatched. But he has never met Hodge there. Phyllis Mercer is not in the Bebington Dramatic Society. She is in another one which combines the ‘old girls’ of the girls’ secondary school with the ‘old boys’ of Park High School. We can’t think how she can have met Hodge, still less how or why she has kept it secret when she discusses everybody with George Wright in order to obtain his psychological opinion. We can therefore hardly believe it. Perhaps it began at the time Hodge ceased to stop and talk with us. But then Hodge’s secretiveness gives a false impression maybe that something is hidden we would like to know.
April 9 Monday: I received a letter from Algiers with an immense black border. The first thought was that Mdlle. Adelin was dead. But I found it was written on notepaper to match by one E.Blondin of Oran, whether M. or Mdlle. there was no indication. He (or she) did not say he knew English so I had to reply in French, which is tiresome. He had written “je sens que je trouverai en vous un veritable ami a qui le Destin me pousse.” And he explained that his “friends are numerous and owing to their dissemination throughout the world occupy much of his leisure” in writing to them. But we shall see.
When George Wright called he said Phyllis Mercer had accepted an invitation from me and that Miss Cholmondeley would accept also. He told me she had not invited him inside for “Alan” and another were there, and she seemed to have just awakened from an evening nap or to have taken too much cyder or stout or cocktails or whatever it is she drinks. We played chess and drew.
April 10 Tuesday: I read Blondin’s letter again. He refers to himself as “un irregulier” so my presuming it was Monsieur was correct. Nothing happened today. I went to the Liverpool Botanical Society in the evening. Green was there. I have made no progress with my poem.
It does not seem to have occurred to me to ask what an “irregulier” was – presumably a “territorial” – or what sort of a place was Oran. The letter I sent must have been that which led Blondin, who commented on the “Francais tres litteraire”(which I took as a compliment!) to write and state his opinion that I must be a “pauvre exile loin de tout ce qu’il aime.”
April 11 Wednesday: I returned the Rhythms to Donald Magee and he accompanied me to the Library. Laver, a silly grumbling fellow, was there. Lunn called while I was out, also Piggott. I called on Piggott and almost quarrelled over communism. He bemoaned the fact that Halliday was my disciple. Magee is sympathetic, but impotent and insouciant. Richardson and Piggott are Officers’ Training Corps members, and therefore no friends of peace. I called on Bennett in the evening. He has failed in his examination. I did nothing with my poem. The technique is almost insuperably difficult.
April 12 Thursday: George Wright came in the afternoon and in the evening Iver Mercer (now at Birkenhead Institute in 6A) came to say Phyllis Mercer was ill and would be glad if we would go there. Miss Cholmondeley and George Wright were there, but all the literary conversation was in the hands of Phyllis Mercer and myself. She is an exceptionally intelligent female. As I was not on my own ground I left Hodge out.
April 13 Friday: I set off to Penarlag with George Evans. Who would overtake us but Edge straight from Talgarth. Nothing of great interest happened. I am feeling rather sick with everybody, and this poem simply refuses to work. Besides I don’t feel well.
April 14 Saturday: In the morning I went to the Library and borrowed Flecker’s collected poems and John Davidson’sTestament of a Prime Minister which is not poetry, though, I suppose, as near to it as anything I am ever liable to turn out, the way things are. At any rate I read it. I called on Edge in the evening and traced him to Westmore’s where there were also Guthrie, Rees and Batchelor, a “person”. Westmore defended the “Boy Scouts” but admitted all my arguments one by one. Edge has also declared himself a communist, to me, at any rate. Later Edge and I walked to Barnston and discussed promoting the cause. I looked at some of Westmore’s efforts, by which he seems to set store in proportion as they are no good, and quick to miss the parts that do unconsciously betray talent. But he is very interested in them. Edge departs on Tuesday.
April 15 Sunday: Nothing much occurred today. I called to Westmore. As he had intended to go to 48 North Road on Monday and Edge was coming to my place I invited Westmore to come as well. Edge was telling me that the friend he visits in Talgarth was a practising Christian until he read a book about atheism, and is now full of doubts and hesitations. Edge seemed put out at it.
April 16 Monday: Yesterday the temperature soared to the delightful value of 68 F. Today was as good, with a caressing south-west wind. I rang up Darlington whose mother is to go into the local hospital. I borrowed Marx’s Capital from the Library and read some of it, and very difficult matter it is, to boot.
Then according to the arrangement Westmore called and we looked at what juvenilia he had been able to find, as yet unburned by his family. He said that whereas two years ago he had possessed a marked poetic faculty, at present it seemed to be dried up and not to be coaxed back into fertility. When Edge came I read out Mdlle. Adelin’s letter which came today. She thinks communism “le seul salut pour l’homme”. It was a brilliant letter and loudly aclaimed by Edge. He had to leave early and I showed Westmore my grand latest poem, “Sabotage”. He said I was more like Browning than anybody else, and since I’ve never done more than glance at Browning in a selection Hodge gave me (the time I was in favour) the conclusion is that I have developed to the Browning stage, and shall doubtless surpass it. And I don’t think my poetry has his appalling harshness. Westmore loathes Aldous Huxley and, strange to say, Barbellion [pen-name of English diarist Bruce Cummings, who wrote “Diary of a Disappointed Man’, 1919]. Westmore says he has all the equipment of a journalist. But his family are not disposed to let him use it. It seems Mrs Edge persuaded her successful brother to ask the editor of the Strand Magazine how to be a successful journalist and he replied “free lance in a garret”. They think he is suffering from a temporary youthful aberration, has “been reading something” or “talking to somebody” and that as soon as the moon changes, the infatuation will pass and he will return again to the bosom of his family who saved him from himself. It is a pity for he writes good prose. He marvels at my “immense vocabulary” which he cannot approach, notwithstanding a thesaurus and many hours of patient research into synonyms and alternatives of expression. He expressed the odd opinion that Masefield is a poet, and that the poet’s principal theme ought to be love. I shall miss Edge. But the weather is good so let us swig solace from that bottle.
I have a vague recollection that Mdlle. Adelin (the initial was I think A.) was a Breton, from Carhaix. Gth. was Edge’s first cousin. His mother’s maiden name was Guthrie and it may be the successful one was the Birkenhead solicitor whom Phyllis [his sister] employed on occasion.
April 17 Tuesday: I saw Halliday in the morning. I don’t think he will be of much use. These people are too weak. I could do nothing with them culturally, and even in their professed realm of practice they will not put themselves to any trouble. Not that I’ve tried Halliday. But a person who can profess pacifism and at the same time hold the position of deputy boy scout “master” must have an oddly developed mind. Westmore remarks that intellectuality is “not scouting”.
Nothing happened later. I hear that Wk. is debarred from cycling or walking because of his newly acquired “weak heart,” which he got from a school athletic display. I have suffered another temporary set-back to the poem.
I am completely unable to visualise Wk. in any shape or form, and cannot think what his full name could be.
April 18 Wednesday: Cycling with Lunn for lack of a better companion I went to Shotton, Northop, Rhosesmor, Rhesycae, Lixwm, Nannerch and returned direct through Yr Wyddgrug [the town of Mold in English]. Lunn was to play in Donald Magee’s band tonight. Whether he did or not I don’t know. I think we got back just in time. The country we visited was a very great and pleasant surprise to me. I had never been from Northop to Lixwm before, having always kept to the valley route. The Southward view from Hallkyn Mountain was pronounced by Lunn to be “magnificent” – whatever that means in the mouth of an illiterate. The Hope Hills were heaped one above another, the Foel Gron from Crigiau were seen in section, and along the Alyn it was possible to discern Y Foel Forfydd and Moel y Gamelin. It was a very instructive viewpoint altogether.
In the evening Wright came. He denied the truth of Mrs Harte’s allegations of infatuation with Dilys Evans the gallomaniac. Of Phyllis Mercer he says, “She will be a socialist when it suits her purposes.”
April 19 Thursday: On my way to the city Robinson, Halliday and I converged at Singleton Avenue. It seems Lunn has been gossiping. Hands have been held up in horror at my new opinions. In the evening I took “Sabotage” to Hodge who quite agreed I should try to find a publisher for it. As for his own work, it has become more obscure than ever. He says he writes for two people (himself and Alan Hodge I presume) and has therefore developed a wonderfully intricate way of saying the obvious. But it goes hard when an author has to stop and try to remember what he meant when he wrote something, and to disentangle the euphuisms and sonorous impalpable. He seemed more restored tonight. At any rate he showed me some of his sketches which are mere blotches he doesn’t profess to admire himself. It seems that at his school they had three Fascist speakers, and he had hoped to obtain a communist, but the headmaster declined even to consider a socialist. He asked questions about Russia and expressed his sympathy with our efforts. I imagine he will join us one day.
April 20 Friday: In the morning Halliday called and said that Piggott was not at the last dance and that Ma. brought Miss Brownless. There is some disaffection between him and the girl. He came himself later. Poetry is very slow just now. I can’t get the third section right. And I can’t help feeling some qualms about the coming examinations. I simply haven’t been able to persuade myself to open a book. But I have no choice. It is just not in my nature to cultivate mechanical memory when there is action and creativity. That is all.
April 21 Saturday: In the morning I struggled for four hours without producing a line; in the afternoon the tangle showed signs of resolving itself, but the last part will require immense care. I borrowed Clive Bell’s Art when I visited the Library, read it, and started on Lenin’s Imperialism. I also borrowed MP Price’s Reminiscences of Russian Revolution. I saw George Evans for a minute. But after all he is only a boy. I looked up Westmore. He is a psychological study. He was not too pleased to see me, for he was going to the cinema where he would meet Guthrie and Batchelor. The film, he explained, was pornographic and this is the kind of film he likes best; the bawdiness is served up pictorially. There have been four consecutive trips to the cinema. And the day he spends keeping “physically fit” or watching rugby matches. Moreover, he says his desire for pornography is a consequence of his “physical fitness”. Of the working class he says, “Look at them. You can see they’re unintelligent by their faces.” But his intelligence leads him to pornography, and as for his face it has been described as “mangy and spiritless” by no less an expert on physiognomy than my good self at the age of 16 and in this very diary. I would not claim to be handsome but I wouldn’t like to look like Westmore.
April 22 Sunday: I am unable to make any progress with the poem. All freedom of rhythm seems to have deserted me. I saw Piggott for a few minutes in the evening. He informed me that my political opinions had occasioned furious comment in many circles. “But you won’t convince me in a hurry.” Not that I would dream of attempting it. Piggott will not join anything that is not obviously winning at the moment. The accomplished fact will make him discover he has always agreed with it. All Piggott cares about is Piggott and though people who ignore their own advantage are fools, still there are higher and lower advantages.
April 23 Monday: Today the Poetry of Today came out [in which Greaves had three poems titled respectively “Wings”, “Aftermath” and “Heart, Murmur Not”] and I posted copies to HAT [a maternal aunt, Hilda Taylor], Mary Greaves [paternal aunt], Edge, Alan Morton and Hughes. Mrs Westmore had made me promise to send her some poems. I must not forget to send her some. George Wright called. Mrs Hunt attacked him, “You’ve only become a communist because Desmond has.” This is the taunt that Piggott distributes wholesale. However it is not worth while refuting it. Those who are capable of it are bound to be converted some time. I saw Donald Magee a few minutes in the evening.
April 24 Tuesday: I saw Donald Magee in the morning. In the afternoon I went to the British Anti-war Movement exhibition in Islington where I joined it, and talked with the communists. I spoke to a Mr Dawson who had been in jail during the war for conscientious objection. He said the true story of it has never been written. Not 25% of those in Dartmoor were genuine – their objection was not conscientious. The Quakers were the darlings of the government, which gave them non-combatant posts. There were 72 sects in prison and from 1 pm. Saturday to Sunday midnight the chapel resounded with their tootling as they took their turns. Many of the workers demanded education. I was impressed by one aged about 23 whose mother turned him out when he “joined the party”. She left £200 to the Catholic Church. He was three months in jail after the Birkenhead riots. Dawson was from the middle class. He said he read everything, including poetry. There was no supercilious sneering at culture in this party. Logic, education, reason were the words used. The Fascists were abhorred, but also laughed at.
In the evening I called on Charles Moat and later saw Piggott. I went in respect of a chess meeting.
April 25 Wednesday: I read Price on the Russian Revolution. Later I saw Halliday and told him of my conversation with Piggott and how I said to him, “I take it you are a mild Fascist.” “You are not far wrong,” said Piggott. “That’s what he told me yesterday,” said Halliday. So I told him that Piggott had said, “Yes. Halliday’s followed you, but I don’t see how he is going to square it with Rover Scouting.” “Yes,” said Halliday, “That’s one of my great problems at the moment.”
April 26 Thursday: I went to the university again today. I saw Jackson, who had heard of my politics, and Clarkson. Miss Dutton, the feminist, had failed to find the reference that made boys cleverer than girls up to the age of 16, and the reverse thereafter; and small wonder, for precisely the opposite is supposed to be the case. Not that I’m not sceptical, of course. Generalising from statistics is too dangerous.
There was to be a camp for unemployed men at Wollaston, under University auspices. I read in the newspaper that Green had supported it, but the local snobs sabotaged the scheme though there is not a house within half a mile of the site. They said that plans had not been submitted in time for the Council meeting. But the Town Clerk had had them a long time and they were already accepted by the health department. I wonder if I could persuade the university people to press the scheme.
I saw Lawrence Batty on a later boat and reflected on what a totally stupid unthinking specimen he is. I also saw three Birkenhead Institute old boys, two of them students, and could not help, rather rudely I suppose, leaving them. They were so incredibly boring. I said it was cold on top deck and went away. I called on Whalley, Richmond, Charles Moat, George Wright and Lunn about a chess club meeting on May 7th. I called on Wk. because Hu 2 had said he was waiting for me in the Library on Saturday night to be converted to Communism. Cambridge can do that. Anyway Wk. is worthless, less reliable, as Charles Moat says, even than Jellicho. But I told him about the British Anti-War Movement exhibition. I was wondering whether to approach Allison about it. After this I came back here and read Botany.
April 27 Friday: I didn’t go to Botany in the morning. I went to retrieve my umbrella from Aintree. In the train there was an engineer who asked questions about manufacturing prospects in that area. On my quite casually mentioning private wells he took out a notebook and wrote a memorandum. I recovered the umbrella. I finished Lenin’s Imperialism in the afternoon. I received a letter from Mdlle. Adelin in which she says that Julian Benda has at last given up retrenchment and has been forced to declare himself against Fascism. She glorified Alain as the finest French spirit of the day. The Hogarth Press say they do not publish things as short as “Sabotage”.
I called on George Wright and asked him to pass on Green’s message to one Haines who is connected with the unemployed camp proposed. I then called on George Evans and suggested he go to the BAWM [British Anti-War Movement] exhibition. Wright told me an amusing thing. Arthur Hyatt Williams found a letter for him at the Union. It ran, “If Arthur Hyatt Williams will go to 22 Heron Road he will hear a thing that is to his advantage.” Now the notepaper was stamped 22 Heron Road and this is Haines’ address. The handwriting is that of Mrs Haines, whom Williams knows to be a neurotic but now thinks “touched”. He asked Wright’s advice, but as he will not take it, it is irrelevant.
Haines was the Latin teacher at Birkenhead Institute, himself a trifle neurotic, and with a sizeable bump of self-importance.
April 28 Saturday: I finished “Sabotage” today. In the afternoon I went to Capenhurst to a meeting of the Botanical Society. After Dr Green had defended himself against Dallman, that gentleman inserted another scathing attack in the North Western Naturalist, so virulent indeed that Green wondered whether we should cry “no truck” with him. Westmore had written to the agent in charge of Shotwick Wood asking for permission to examine it. We were amused to see a Nazi-looking young man in a motorcar with the local policeman. They were climbing the bank and peering into the wood, having evidently expected us to disregard their ban. They glared at us and we glared back, and in the end they drove off looking very disappointed.
Mrs Skrimshire, atheist, friend of Donald Magee, and very wealthy, was born in Scotland where they used to make a picnic to the distant church every other Sunday, spending the whole day in religious practice. She had a “nervous breakdown” years ago. She was pampered by her family, but now grew so impossible that they rose up on her. She did not speak to any of them for ten days. But she was cured. She is married to a man with a passion for Bach. She herself likes Mozart. But she is inclined to solitariness and would like to live by herself. She says she does not get on well with her sister, and when her friends call on her she is glad when they go. For all that she is a witty and entertaining woman. And yet she applauds the advent of Fascism in Germany for stamping out Bolshevism and removing the Jews who were throttling German industry and monopolising trade as (she says) they are doing here.
Miss Ahlhörn asked me, “Don’t you think we require a radical change in the structure of society?” When I suggested Communism she was taken aback. The unemployed camp scheme has found an ally in a Wollaston parson, who is holding out for it in the teeth of opposition from his congregation. On being told by a local councillor that the site proposed would be unsuitable Green is said to have replied, “Perhaps you would prefer the middle of the Sahara.” He was highly offended.
April 29 Sunday: For some reason Harry Greaves [his uncle ] and DZF [his uncle’s wife] invited AEG and CEG to tea where revelations were made, among them that of Elsie Greaves’s affair with a certain Jack Browning, one time frequenter of dubious establishments, but apparently reformed. Elsie was a little shamefaced, I thought. For my part I regard her prospective spouse merely as an animal.
April 30 Monday: I had a long discussion with Colqhoun in the Botany Laboratory. He tells me he used to be in the Communist Party but now calls himself a mild liberal. Why? Because communism would restrict his individuality. Also he wanted to be rich and choose his own environment. He admits communism is inevitable – give it 20 years. He also says that of all parties the CP is the best. I imagine he leaped into it in an access of idealistic frenzy only to find his exaggerated expectations disappointed. He has never occupied the Liberal position.
I went to a debate on Internationalism v Nationalism in which Peter Evans the communist was speaking. He is an attractive personality, with a prophetic air, idealistic face and faint Welsh accent, adding up to, shall I say, quaintness. Internationalism won by 55 votes to 9. I joined Evans’s “Socialist Society“[It seems from later entries that Peter Evans was a member of the Independent Labour Party]. Piggott and Colqhoun were there, as well as Elwyn Jones, who’s after turning Fascist!
May 1 Tuesday: There was to have been a talk by Leo McGree, just out of jail, but owing to internal dissension in the Socialist Society, the meeting was cancelled. At the Liverpool Botanical Society Dr Green summarily dismissed the meeting at 9 pm. by leaving the chair. This was to spite JDM.
The arch-moderate was supposed to be Bill Hamling, later MP for Woolwich, and by then not so “arch”. Evans was the left-winger. But I think the objection to the communist came from some other source.
May 2 Wednesday: I read Alain Chartier’s Mars – The Truth about War in the Picton so as to be able to discuss him in my reply to Mddle. Adelin. This I wrote in the afternoon. It is a most illuminating book. I did botany by night.
May 3 Thursday: I saw Jackson who says he is thinking of becoming a communist. I also saw Paris on the boat. He used to be a socialist; now he is a liberal. He is afraid Fascism is coming and socialists will go to jail. Just as Colqhoun, who said, “why should I martyr myself?” Paris proposed to see me tonight to explain his position. But there was little common ground. Later Lawrence Batty came saying he had received an invitation to publish a ten-line poem in Poetry of Today. It turned out that he wanted me to subscribe. But I’m flat broke. And the poem itself was Wordsworthian pastiche, a description of a sunset. It must be very small honour to be published in “Poetry of Today”.
May 4 Friday: In the morning there came a letter from Blondin. He seems quite an interesting person, though certainly not of the intellectual stature of Mdlle. Adelin. He is apparently the possessor of an immense psychological museum into which he dockets his correspondence. George Wright came.
May 5 Saturday: I wrote to Blondin in the morning and to Edge in the afternoon. In the evening I saw Halliday at the Library but did not convince him. When I got home I heard that Hodge had called, and Phyllis, according to her custom, had pretended to forget his name. He asked me to call and I did. “He’s out,” said his mother, “he brought Miss Jones home to tea and now they’ve gone out.” She pronounced the name Jones as if it was Jezebel. Later Hodge returned.
May 6 Sunday: I had borrowed Middleton Murry’s Necessity of Communism but on reading it I decided it was a lot of blather and put it down. But I read Barbusse’s One looks at Russia. I listened to the Russian broadcast at night.
May 7 Monday: The petty bourgeoisie are a large class of people whose aspirations do not go beyond the living of small lives as easily as possible. Colqhoun has lived too long in this atmosphere to come to anything. At one time he pulls himself up for being too intellectual, then for pandering to stupidity and vulgarity. He can’t pronounce quite simple words, which means he has never heard them and only read them, and he admits his lack of conversational ability, except of course in relation to sex, to which he constantly reverts. This means that his amusing tirades against feminine intelligence are somewhat de-vitriolised when one reflects that “a woman’s life is 80% love” according to his pot and kettle estimations.
In the evening the Chess Club general meeting was held. My proposals were that visitors and 1st term boys should be allowed to attend, and that a loan should be raised to pay debts and affiliation fees to the Old Boys’ Society. I was authorised to undertake negotiations.
Today, the examination papers being returned I found I had scored 36% in theory, but in the practical 54% which is near the upper limit. So things do not look so hopeless as they did and I hope, by dint of great exertions, to scrape through in June. But it will be the most difficult thing that I have ever attempted. I had a photograph taken, for Blondin.
May 8 Tuesday: Discussions with Colqhoun are becoming a feature of practical botany classes. It is amusing to hear him generalise, assisted on occasion by Hunt who is said recently to have threatened to throw himself over a cliff if a girl did not satisfy him. This was while the biologists were at Port Erin and cliffs were available.
May 9 Wednesday: I borrowed an English translation of Au dessus de la mêleé and read as the pounding and commotion – CEG and AEG going to Ambleside tomorrow – prevented me from doing any botany.
May 10 Thursday: I saw Jackson, Clerkson, Halliday and others and spent the afternoon with IHW Jones of the committee of the Music Society. It seems he cycles and says he has come from Sussex, 250 miles, in a 24 hour day. His family is from Bala. He plays chess also. I saw Yaffe in the Union, whom I played years ago in the Wright Challenge Shield.
It was Yaffe who played the Karo Can on me when his chess teacher had taught all members of the team a new opening. I had no notion of how to meet it and lost. At that time I was not pleased at being defeated by this rather weedy specimen. But the five years had brought him out. He was of course Jewish and had become a professional Zionist, not to be wondered at in 1934.
May 11 Friday: I walked to Heswall with Halliday. Later I saw George Wright who tells me that Mrs Mercer has invited him to canvass for her when she stands against Graham White for Birkenhead East. He told her I would do so too. He had heard of my speech at yesterday’s Anti-War meeting.
May 12 Saturday: In the morning the Botany students went to Freshfield. Few interesting people were there. There was a young lady who was very proud of her sarcasm – I forget her name – who, whenever Miss Dutton grew satirical, pointed out that she herself, in the early days of her apprenticeship to the art, used exactly the same phrases as Miss Dutton happened to be using.
In the evening I returned Rolland’s book and borrowed Dobb’s “Capitalist Enterprise and Social Progress”. Edge has a high opinion of Dobb, who is in Cambridge, and frequently quotes him. But whom should I meet but Gg. who is an extreme socialist. I talked with him a long time. He says that the poverty in South Wales is unbelievable. He is going to Borgoed this summer, near Abertillery which is a smoky blotch where the miners are learning Greek. The “liberal” education of the workers is a safeguard against anti-artistic philistinism which I am not sure the Soviet is free from. The barbarisation of the upper classes may make culture the proudly maintained monopoly of the lower orders. We went a walk afterwards. He declares categorically that he will not fight in a war, but prosecute the class war to the best of his abilities. He also maintains the useful opinion that a ‘worker’ is anybody who has only his labour to sell. He agrees that the old exploit the young. This was what I last Friday compelled all in the laboratory to accept, except Travis and Jones the Fascist. But like Green, Gg. thinks the main thing is to nationalise the banks. At the same time he recognises that the state is the expression of economic power.
The country is looking exceptionally fine. I am planning a grand new poem on the Story of Sanswhat, the world individualist in the struggle for his own autonomy. We met Jackson, his sister and Halliday.
May 13 Sunday: I saw Wright, but nothing happened.
May 14 Monday: I saw Phyllis Mercer and Miss Cholmondeley, also Halliday and Lee in the union, but nothing happened.
May 15 Tuesday: I talked a long time with Lee, on how to prevent war. At last he came out with, “Hm! You’re a sane bugger, Greaves. You admit there are two sides to the question.” Humphries referred to my “impressive speech” last week.
May 16 Wednesday: A letter from Donald Magee raised interesting points. When I told Elwyn Jones, our pet Fascist, the name of a plant, Colqhoun described my manner as “like giving something to a dog”. I don’t like fools who interrupt my conversation with more intelligent persons.
A letter came from Edge. He has been a member of the British Anti-War Movement since last year. The Social Democrats in the Socialist Society are plotting to displace the Marxist majority on the committee, but Edge thinks they will fail. He has given my poem to Alan Morton. He has read Lenin’s “Imperialism” and is collecting a library of Marxist literature.
May 17 Thursday: I saw Green on the boat and showed him “Willy Nilly,” the Indian student antiwar magazine. I later showed it to Hawes, secretary of the Liverpool Anti-war Society. He advised me to start one here. I am the amused chronicler of the various convolutions of the university socialists. Riddell, a leader like Peter Evans but a less pleasant character, promised Hawes that the Anti-war Society would not be communist. Hawes agreed to allowing Socialist Society members on the committee. But Riddell is a notorious messer. He broke his word and the communists were driven off the committee. Hawes holds that opposition to war must be based on humanitarianism. The university authorities, being very conservative, will not tolerate an official communist organ. I have not yet heard of the authorities interfering and radical opinion seems very strong possibly out of distrust of tariffs. Perhaps the authorities do not yet consider us a danger. But after accepting a £50,000 building from Lord Leverhulme, they will not wish to flout him if he demands repressive measures. But he has not done. Perhaps anyway he thinks he can ignore students.
Also there is Clutton who only last week spoke into my own ear extreme radical – no, Bolshevist – views, and stigmatized Peter Evans as a “political wobbler”. Now rumour has it that he has gone Fascist. I saw him today and understand he has repudiated his connections with the SCR [Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR], has left the CP (if he was ever in it) and is neither Communist nor Fascist. Last week he was congratulating the Communist element on the way it had dislodged the Social Democratic element in the Socialist Society. Now he said something about £1,000 a year as a chemist and the means test as a communist, to say nothing of jail and persecution. His manner is artificial, odd, and affected. I saw Phyllis Mercer in Borough Road.
May 18 Friday: I received a letter from Alan Morton who fears his poetic days are over, and records his many days spent in Communist agitation. He has, of course, a natural tendency to regard himself as a martyr, and I would not be surprised if one day he should assassinate a millionaire and earn himself a crown of immortal glory. I also received a letter from the BAWM [British Anti-War Movement] announcing a general meeting. The provisional secretary is a Mr Paul of Parkgate whom Green can’t abide, I don’t know why. It seems there is going to be a grand reorganization. I asked Barr of the SCR if they could get a Russian correspondent for Gg. who was interested in one.
Gg. would be Griffiths. I don’t remember his first name. I remember cycling near Mold in (about) 1928 or possibly a year or two later. Gg. and his father were cycling, I think, to South Wales. They stopped at the Loggerheads for a snack, but I rode on. Old Griffiths was telling me about George Borrow whom he called “Burroghs”. He knew Welsh but was not as good as “Burrows”, he said.
May 19 Saturday: I did little enough in the day. I felt unwell. A letter from the CP informed me that the local people will shortly get in touch with me. I saw Green in the evening. Last time I was there his brother said that communists ought to be shot, because they used force. Now his glib outbursts are on a different note. “The only way to do in this rotten country is to kick up a fuss. How did the suffragettes get what they wanted? If the Liverpool unemployed had only made a little more noise they wouldn’t have had any means test. They managed it all right in Birkenhead. And I can tell you this flat, if I was down and out, I’d pinch as soon as wink. I’d have a brick though a shop window before you could say ‘knife’ and stand there till the bobby picked me up.”
This maddened Green, but Green 2 left the room with a few observations on the subject of cannon fodder and the labour battalions of the last war. And then Green exercised all his arts of persuasion and indulged in considerable vituperation against the communists who have, no doubt, after the fashion of humanity, employed the most mistaken tactics possible. He is willing to eat his hat if Moore and Paul are not in receipt of cash from Moscow, for Paul has made assertions he would not believe from the mouth of Archangel Gabriel [Moore was the local Communist Party secretary]. The CP had deliberately broken the united front it pretended to support. It is committed to a policy controlled by a committee three hours time away. But in reply to my questions as regards war he said that if there were another war he would, he supposed, if his age were suitable, join up again the same as last time. He did not appreciate that I should tolerate even the capitalist system if it could guarantee to prevent war for ever. I have no desire for class war, no more than he has. But why is he tolerant of imperialist war and intolerant of class war?
I later saw Li. who said he is a “conscientious objector” at the moment. From the Library I borrowed Stalin’s “Leninism” which is one of the silliest books I ever read. The interminable discussion as to what does and does not constitute Leninism, and the great insistence on and prominence given to heresies and factions, remind me of the early Greek church. So I decided only to join the CP provisionally, for if it supports nonsense like this, I am sorry for its effectiveness.
May 20 Sunday: Today George Evans called, with a bombshell. What has taken him but that he must go and join the YCL [Young Communist League], an organisation I regard with profound suspicion. It seems he went to the Anti-War and a youthful gent. who turned out to be the son of Green’s bete noire, Moore, who is a teacher at the Oldershaw, whose pupils of history Green says he pities, asked him artfully if there was a lecture on, something (I observe) that must have been obvious. To this young man’s question as to whether Evans would join the BAWM, Evans replied, “But I thought it was a communist organisation.”
“So it is and I’m one too.”
And within minutes Evans applied to join the YCL and is now No.7 in the district. Already he has gone to meetings of this enormous organization. The age of young Moore is 19 or 20. The root of the matter is that Evans’s nature is really to go in opposition to his father, and already he has been refused permission to go out when he will not tell them where he is going. I think that in two weeks he will lose all interest in it.
May 21 Monday: In the afternoon I went to see Darlington and he told me he could not make up his mind which of two fair damsels to make free of, one, Miss Cheeseborough, writes promising poetry which is however profoundly serious. The other is the large Miss Hallam with no mean sex appeal. He periodically rings Miss C. – and has a violent quarrel, after which she writes him an apology.
When I got back I found AEG and CEG had arrived. When they reached Langdale their hostess had led them into a room where there was an extraordinarily large cat, sleeping on the mat. It was streaked with black and white like a zebra, from head to foot, and concerning it she assured them there was an interesting story. One day a wealthy woman visitor took a fancy to it and offered to buy it. The hostess was disinclined to accept the money and offered it as a gift. However a nominal price of 2/6 was agreed. Six months later the lady returned with the cat in a hamper and offered 5/- if the hostess would take it back, for, she assured her, nothing had been safe since the animal entered her house. Her tapestry was in ribbons, her curtains torn down, her garden scratched and scraped beyond recognition. The hostess accepted it but refused the money, but the visitor slipped half a sovereign under the table cloth. But the nature of the cat had changed; it seemed perfectly insane. At last she put it in a strong chest and ordered a farm-hand to take it to a deep pond and dispose of it. However when he uncovered the chest the cat had escaped, and moreover since then it has been a model animal not causing the slightest anxiety to anybody.
May 22 Tuesday: I received a letter from Alan Morton advising me not by any means to join the CP as I should do it no good. “Liverpool local seems bad enough without you buggering it up only worse.” He wondered how Colqhoun could have got into it. So do I. Morton says he does not doubt I might find party discipline irksome.
May 23 Wednesday: I called on Green in the evening. He is not in favour of pacifism and supports Bevin [Ernest Bevin, Labour politician], with whom he is acquainted. Bevin is very mild and moderate. It seems fairly clear that the Labour Party does not propose to put through socialism. While I was there FC Moore called. CEG was very suspicious of him. I met Barr of the SCR. Incidentally Alan Morton said Stalin’s policy is wise. I doubt it on the strength of his book.
May 24 Thursday: It is evident that my work is to be anti-war. I do not feel the same animosity to capitalism that Alan Morton does. I would not object to other people being exploited if it were to the advantage of Culture, but unfortunately it is not. It seems to mean decay. Mlle. Adelin advised, “Moderate the pains of the revolution whichever side wins.” But this does not prevent me helping one side to win.
In the evening I attended a meeting of the SCR [Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR]. Barr says the messer Riddell wants to see me. I rang up Moore informing them that I did not see my way clear to joining his party.
May 25 Friday: I saw Edge’s sister who says he will return on June 9th. He hopes to gain a scholarship from this exam. I was approached by Arthur Hyatt Williams at midday and had a fairly long conversation with him. Rumours that he is now wealthy are not true. In fact it is with difficulty that he makes ends meet, and as Jackson remarks, depredations upon his acquaintances have helped him to do it. He seems to have a mania for self-abasement. I have no faith in him, but he and Brian White tried to start an Anti-war movement in West Kirby, failing because this White (Oxford) was involved in the Swindon cinema case.
May 26 Saturday: From the Library I borrowed “Moscow Dialogues”, which gives a notable presentation of dialectical materialism. One cannot avoid the conclusion that this theory is in the main right. I read botany in the afternoon. At 9 pm. I called on Moore and discussed communism. He convinced me that the CP is run along sound lines and does not but very indirectly take orders from Moscow and then only when it asks for them. The article in the Socialist Review was full of lies. Bevin, whom Green eulogises, is a fraudulent imposter, and the workers, or some of them at least, are beginning to recognise it. Moore takes the Manchester Guardian. I did not hear many things I didn’t know, except as pertain to inner party organization. His son Mo2 (Clive Moore) is “leader” of the local YCL. Moore wondered whether I should be better in that or the CP. As they are both weak I shall probably join both. Clive Moore has been in contact with George Evans and I have found out what led him to join the YCL. I have a suspicion that he was sent last Sunday to sound me out. Moore has tried to get in communication with me through Riddell who is a messer, and what is worse, a cadger and borrower, like JAA Smith who took in the whole of Prenton except myself. Clive Moore is attempting to form an anti-war movement in Moreton; so I thought of Arthur Hyatt Williams. Moore knew Brian White. The result will probably be that I shall join the CP.
When I met Moore, I had every reason to appreciate why CEG was so suspicious of him. I don’t think he ever looked anybody in the eye. He seemed shifty. He was also dry and crusty. He was separated from his wife, a French woman I met later, full of life and gemutlichkeit. He lived with his son in a flat over the headquarters of the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Grange Mount (I think) at the upper end of Grange Road West. I would say he had no sense of humour. But he was dedicated in his way and incredibly sectish.
May 27 Sunday: I saw George Evans who told me that the secretary of the YCL is a boy of 16, a working class person who laughs at Clive Moore’s occasional sesquipedalianisms. One Bisson came to talk to them, and it was nonsense. But Evans does not remember what it was or why it was nonsense. Clive Moore is impulsive, says Evans.
Bisson used to deliver pep talks, clenching his fists and making decisive gestures. The members of the “District Committee” were held in awe and were fond of laying down the law. Bisson was an extreme case. But apparently he was a serious artist and after he had left politics (no harm) he did quite well.
May 28 Monday: I saw Riddell and also talked with Barr who is a good man from what I can see. In the evening at the BAWM I saw Riddell again, also Moore and Bisson who is a bull-dog type.
Barr would probably be the architect, I think then aged 23, older than I was anyway. He joined the CP later after Riddell had gone.
May 29 Tuesday: Nothing much happened today. I saw Piggott, Halliday and Jackson. Piggott complained about the attacks I have been making on him, but since they were not personal but political he merely looked plaintive and laughed a little nervously. As for Halliday he is a disgraceful wobbler, and now looks upon communism with pronounced disfavour. I suspect that he hopes that by professing nothing more dangerous than a mild pacifism he will get a job in chemical industry.
May 30 Wednesday: On a walk in the late evening I described Halliday’s policy and he agreed with me. Jackson is a total pacifist. He is going to give up his work in the ramblers’ federation in order to work against war. Riddell organised a meeting which included myself, his brother, Barr and an aristocratic-looking intellectual. We were to have met a grand communist, but owing to Riddell’s messing we did not. Riddell had to get Barr to buy tea for him. He wants to reorganise the Socialist Society on an FSS [Federation of Socialist Societies?] basis. We discussed faculty groups. There has been a crisis in the Union. It seems a dissatisfied employee of the Union complained to the university authorities who over-ruled his nominal employers, our “democratic union”. We are to fight this case.
I think the catering manager was dismissed and the authorities reinstated her. There was quite a sensation, but nothing happened. The authorities got their way.
May 31 Thursday: Barr complained that Riddell had not notified him that a meeting called for today had been cancelled. I spoke to Arthur Hyatt Williams and argued that there is no hope in social democracy. He is going to introduce me to Brian White. Halliday’s niggling attitude was further made clear. He told me that he proposes to spend a week in a scout training camp in August. There is a Marxist called Cohen in chemistry and another called Hunt in medicine, but I think they are in the ILP stage [Independent Labour Party].
I finished Sanswhat and typed it. It is far better than anything else, I think, despite its experimental and often risky wrenching of rhythm. I have used repetitions of a few unusual rhythms, alliterations of the heavy consonants b, l and m, also n and c, and devices approaching punning. But I also think there is boldness of imagery which suits the technique.
I have a vague notion that there was some monumental blunder committed by the students. Allison (George Allison) had asked them to provide their politically most experienced person for some operation, probably the “Swindon Cinema” case[an issue seemingly relating to film censorship]. And some of them went to jail for a childish mishandling of it. An account of his prison experiences was told by one of them in the student press. But I think one of the Gilletts in Cambridge was also in jail.
June 1 Friday: That I should have an efflorescence of poetry at a time of nominal hard labour for an examination is remarkable. Verse keeps breaking through despite the conscious ban. I have been jotting down a few lines at odd moments, and was surprised to find I had finished the story. Anyway I took the poem to Hodge and he liked it. He does not propose to take Higher School Certificate again.
I was thinking about dialectical materialism and how ripe I was for it. I had actually invented a dialectical method under the name of “polychrestics”. I refused to accept either mechanism or vitalism. And I always read motives into philosophy, as, during the Higher School Certificate year, when I told WH Watts that the so-called “metatic rags“[these words are unclear in the original and what they refer to is unknown] looked like an effort to bolster collectivism, and when I said the degeneracy of inbred stocks was a fiction aimed at discouraging incest. I always refused to accept the principles of capitalist society and had the conception of life being lived as an art, not distinguishing work from leisure.
Physics is idealist. “Something unknown is doing we know not what.” Biology is mechanist. “Nothing we do is of our choice. We must fall in line as part of the machine.” The attacks on purpose in evolution are more violent than is warranted by concern for pure science. Free-will or determinism? The obvious conclusion that there is a causal nexus of teleologies, a determinist summation as a calculus of free wills, that desire can also be a cause, has entirely escaped them. I alluded to it two or three years ago.
The above passage from part of Volume 17 (pp. 2858-3300) of the original diary. Pavlov’s “reflex of purpose” solved the problem.
June 2 Saturday: Today there was a botanical excursion to Llanberris, and the grass pollen has given me something like hay-fever, and a sore throat. My knowledge of the flora impressed Mr Mathias and improved my standing.
Mr Mathias was of the Dr Knight camp in the deeply divided Hartley Botanical Laboratories. Against him and her were ranged the Professor (McLean Thompson, a Scot) and another Scot, Stirling. Dr Knight was Manx and a splendid person. She should have been professor but had the misfortune to be a woman. The Scot was appointed over her head. Mathias was Welsh and very loyal to his students. He resigned when Alan Morton was given a 2nd class degree.
June 3 Sunday: I went to see Evans at Heswall. He is inclined to “j’ m’en foutisme.” He is of the lower middle class and his faith in religion is not conducive to clear thinking.
June 4 Monday: I went to a YCL meeting in a working class house. There was a sick man. “What is on him?” we asked. With a smile his wife replied, “Well the doctor thought it was TB, but he doesn’t now.” Clive Moore and I were shocked at the mere mention of the scourge, but the sick man merely smiled. The courage of the poor. The hardness of threadbare sensibilities. There was no pity. He expected none. This made an impression of me. (I’ve joined the YCL).
There is no reason to doubt that it was at this meeting I joined, though for many years, despite the evidence of the card, I thought it was earlier, probably because of university activities. I think I joined the CP a few weeks later and held dual membership for a while. The house would be Lunan’s, and I recall receiving the card. The next entry shows I regarded myself as a member before I actually joined.
June 5 Tuesday: A letter from Alan Morton told me that Edge had joined the party but sends me a message to keep it dark. Alan congratulates me on my decision to ignore his advice. He says that only the assurance that the cause is better than its instruments prevented him from giving up under pressure of party discipline. I collected 2/- from Mr JE Allison, 1/- from Halliday, 6p. from Jackson against the Sedition Bill. I gave 1/- myself.
There was a broad committee in Liverpool working against the “Incitement to Disaffection Act”, under which it would be an offence to offer a soldier a copy of the “Sermon on the Mount”. Allison was delighted and handed me 2/- with the admiring comment, “You’re an enthusiastic young fellow.” He would be about 38 or 39 then. It was of course Alan Morton who was worried about “discipline”? He took things seriously. I took to politics like a duck to water.
June 6 Wednesday: Today I was totally incapacitated by a most violent cold and could hardly speak. I retired before it was dark.
June 7 Thursday: I did little enough during the day as my cold was still severe. In the evening Halliday and I called on AO Jones asking for a subscription to the protest against the Sedition Bill. “Sorry I must refuse,” he said. We were surprised. “Why should I be banned?” he asked. “You’ll not be banned,” we said. “Well, explain it,” said Jones and I did. “Aha!” he said, “See, he’s got it off pat.” The fact that I could explain it was clear evidence of something suspicious. “What’s this I’m hearing about you?” he asked. “I’ve heard you’ve joined the Communist Party” (bated breath). I loudly denied it for fear he should think the CP and the Anti-Disaffection Bill committee were the same thing.
Then I went to see Clive Moore because George Evans had called saying Bisson had interferingly opposed holding an antifascist meeting at Moreton. I told Clive Moore that as for our meeting at Beechcroft let us ask Paul, not Bisson, and that at a pinch I could do all the talking required. He had seen Arthur Hyatt Williams but found him still inclined towards the Social Democrats, which is unfortunate.
AO Jones, my former chemistry teacher, an excellent teacher but very, very timid. I saw him give a lecture on liquid air, and he was obviously terrified of it. The denial was of course what is known as a “white lie,” true in form, but not in substance. I had joined the YCL!
June 8 Friday: I received a call from George Wright and together we called on Griffiths. We arranged a conference a week tonight. Arthur Hyatt Williams will be present.
June 9 Saturday: I went to the Birkenhead Institute sports and saw that Hughes had them all decked out in boaters. I saw George Evans and Clive Moore appeared. But most important I met Phyllis Mercer’s brother Iver Mercer, whom Evans called a fool, but is anything but. Apparently he is only 16; I had thought he was older. His friend Winter is passionately anti-war, rather League of Nations, but will come to our conference.
June 10 Sunday: I called at 48 North Rd. but Edge is not yet back. I played chess with his father, this time losing.
June 11 Monday: Nothing important happened today. I saw Halliday in the evening. He looks as pale as a ghost.
June 12 Tuesday: There was a YCL meeting in the evening. It seems George Evans has been trying to hustle Winter and he won’t be coming to our conference.
June 13 Wednesday: There was an anti-war meeting. I was thinking about the “What is art?” exhibition. I reflected on the development of “modernist” art in a decaying capitalist society. Successful composition involves emotional contradictions so great that they can only be expressed by distortion. They are shifted from external society into the artistic consciousness. There can then arise distortion for its own sake. Distortion is the expression of contradiction.
June 14 Thursday: This afternoon came a bolt from the blue in the form of a physical chemistry paper I simply could not do. I had been congratulating myself on keeping my head above water. But not now. I fear there is no hope.
June 15 Friday: Yesterday I forgot to say there was an anti-war movement started in Birkenhead. Very few came. Today I saw the usual people. I saw Paul at Moore’s. Riddell and Barr were also there. Halliday called saying that he was ruined – with him it was the organic chemistry. I saw Batchelor who said Edge came home on Sunday. Now the exams are over I am wondering whether to write a sociological novel.
June 16 Saturday: It occurred to me to study the economic conditions of the artist class. I saw Halliday who bemoans his sad fate as I mine. AEG had said to him that I had not worked hard enough. He told her that at the university I had laboured with amazing assiduity. A glorious lie! In the afternoon I called on Edge who had kept away for the sake of my work, no doubt at his mother’s suggestion. I heard Coffey and Joe Rawlings at the Haymarket. Coffey is a good speaker.
These were the CP speakers. Rawlings was a moulder, but no doubt unemployed. He was active in the NUWM[National Unemployed Workers Movement]. Coffey (Nugent Coffey) was Liverpool Irish, from Kerry background I think, a very witty and expressive speaker, though politically less solid than the other. Every Saturday night they spoke at the Haymarket, near where the Tunnel entrance is, and every Sunday at Birkenhead Park Gates.
June 17 Sunday: In the afternoon Edge called. When he had gone Iver Mercer came, I thought unnecessarily. I called on Darlington in the evening.
June 18 Monday: I started work on the Marxist critique of music and literature.
June 19 Tuesday: In the morning I saw Moore and Clive Moore. In the evening the Birkenhead Youth Anti-war movement held its first meeting. Edge and I both talked. Clive Moore, George Evans, Iver Mercer, Jackson and his sister came, George Wright, Lunan, Bowman and others. I was in the chair, was elected secretary and Iver Mercer assistant-secretary.
June 20 Wednesday: In the morning there was an examination – quite unnecessary. In the afternoon I took 400 anti-sedition bill handbills to Clive Moore. Iver Mercer called for his at 124 Mount Road. Edge and I distributed 400 in Bebington.
June 21 Thursday: There was another examination today equally superfluous. I borrowed Barbusse’s Clarté and Benda’sBelphegor for a second time, to read his diagnosis again. I called on Griffiths. Jackson said that when his sister gave her editor at the “Advertiser” the report of the anti-war meeting, he blew up and refused to give us any publicity. She would like communism explained to her.
June 22 Friday: Straight from a Chemistry examination I set off by train to Preston. A young man who looked like a student was in the compartment, and when after Preston it emptied, he noticed I had “Cambridge Left” and said he had just come down after taking an English Tripos. He knew Alan Morton by sight. He was called Woodward and was a friend of the notable Brian White who was nearly jailed at Cheltenham. It was he who had joined with White and Hunt to start the West Kirby anti-war movement with Arthur Hyatt Williams. He is a musician and highly intelligent. He was going as far as Ayr. But I left him at Oxenholme.
I took a bus to Hawkshead. I was the only passenger for most of the way and I confess I suspected the driver was drunk. He swung the rickety thing round corners and hills with such force that on one occasion he tipped me off my seat on to the floor. I found the Botanists under Mr Mathias’s tutelage. There was a tall gawkish anaesthetic youth who fell in love with a highly sophisticated madamoiselle with a caricature of a face.
June 23 Saturday: We all climbed to the top of the Old Man at Coniston. I had been up it before. Matthias spoke diatribes against Colqhoun whom he “could not understand.” Hunt told me he had also signified his lack of understanding of myself. But I got on with him quite well for all that. When we got down he went into the post office and asked for a picture of the mountain looking its most fearsome. “I’ll send that to my doctor,” he said. “I’m not supposed to do this.” There was also Jackson who is aged 26, and seemed very interested in me because I played the piano for them and seemed to be a “character”. “And demanding too, by gum,” he said, “You should hear him say. ‘That’s obvious!'” As to the damsel above alluded to, she slipped on a rock and provided Erlich with the pleasure of carrying her home. She tried her act on me, “Well we can hand you a bouquet in one thing. At least you can talk.”
As for the digs, on the first day we were initiated into the sacred orders of the house. A tall, angular, oddly shaped maid provided us with a starvation diet, and notices were hung around the walls announcing the price of additional necessities of life. But tomorrow we are to be regaled on a “meat tea”.
June 24 Sunday: The “meat tea” proved to be the remains of the midday “chickens” (hens that had died on their feet and been boiled in recognition of long service) and some cold fried bacon. However there were plenty of cakes.
To cap all I lost my return railway ticket. I blamed the fasticated bus driver who had tipped me and my luggage out of control. I asked a station official what to do about it.
“There are two ways,” he said. “Either buy a new one or travel without. I know what I’d do.”
“Oh! – could I be nipped?”
“Not if you’re willing to pay. You look as if you could pay – but there’s such a thing as having no money. You see what I mean?”
I resolved to have no money. But the ticket collector at Exchange took so truculent a tone that but for Matthias’s intervention I would have paid. He said to the collector, “That ticket’s been paid for.” He told me that if I paid I would never get it back, while the most that could happen was that I should have to pay. So I gave him my card and went away.
Who should I meet on the boat but YCL Bowman coming from the sedition protest meeting. Later I saw Jackson who boarded the ‘bus at Central Station, where Griffiths left him. Lawrence Batty was on the same bus. The meeting had been exceedingly successful, about 3,000 present. Costs were just cleared. On reaching home I learned that Hodge called this afternoon and George Wright this evening.
June 25 Monday: I saw Piggott at Halliday’s and Hodge on the boat. He is moving in the direction of communism. I saw Clive Moore and Iver Mercer in the evening.
June 26 Tuesday: I was elected secretary (pro tem) of the Birkenhead Anti-War Council (this time adult) and met a Mr Smith of the Wiend, a former Prudential agent, who deplored the narcotised state of the population. Then I went to Moore’s to a YCL meeting.
June 27 Wednesday: Yesterday morning I forgot to attend an examination so that a special one was held for me this morning. In the afternoon Halliday called. In the evening Griffith, Jackson, his sister and Iver Mercer called. After a furious verbal battle in which Griffith and Iver Mercer drove me into one very tight corner, I extricated myself and Griffith’s case for social democracy collapsed. Then Mercer collapsed too saying that I had taught him something new. Griffiths asked about the amount of the YCL subscription.
June 28 Thursday: In the morning George Wright called and I persuaded him to join Moore’s EWL. Then Edge called and said he would not be able to accompany me to South Wales. His people had reacted against his only securing a second class pass in the examination. His mother was a schoolteacher.
The EWL, Educational Workers’ League, a remnant of the old Minority Movement, composed for the most part of CP members plus a few leftwingers. Politics for the CP “fraction” consisted of processing “contacts”.
June 29 Friday: I saw Moore and Clive Moore who said that at the CCC meeting Iver Mercer took up an unsympathetic attitude and openly sneered at the communists. But Clive Moore had arrived late. On Wednesday Mercer remarked that Robinson’s ideas are mediocre but he has the courage of them, and expresses them well when others would not think them worth expressing – a good observation.
June 30 Saturday: A letter came from Alan Morton and as he is only home for a day or two we met and went to Parkgate. He said “Sanwhat” is “very good” – high praise. In the evening George Evans told me how Ivor Mercer had retailed with wonder how “Greaves took us all on at once, and annihilated us. One bloke asked the subscription to the YCL on the way out. He can argue.” But he is far from convinced for all that. Evans told me about the people who are coming to the meeting on Tuesday, the not too desirable Ward who is praised by Clive Moore (“his tastes are not mine,” says Evans), his neurotic friend Thomas, Makin a Jewish man, and a few more. Edge has gone away but has left me his Marxist library in a suitcase.
July 1 Sunday: I did little enough. Griffiths called in the morning. I lent him Edge’s “State and Revolution”.
July 2 Monday: I am writing very satisfactorily, though with reduced output owing to pressure of work. I rang up Brian White who was out.
July 3 Tuesday: I rang up Brian White again and we agreed to meet in the afternoon in the Picton. He is interesting. His habit of sustaining a conversation round a topic for quite a time and then springing with a laugh to his intended point, has an odd literary flavour. He has difficulties at home. His father is an army captain. He had tea at 124 Mount Rd. and we then went to the BAWM youth conference at Beechcroft. He chuckled when he said Woodward had told him about meeting me in the train. Among those present were Wright, Arthur Hyatt Williams, Iver Mercer, George Evans and Lawrence Batty who came to see what it was like. He is a booby and is trying to establish some Beverly-Nicholls peace fellowship. Arthur Hyatt Williams said that Griffiths had had a nervous breakdown. “He takes things very seriously.” He had told me on Sunday that a month ago he was so tired of work that he felt neurotic and went to see a doctor. I walked home with Mercer and Batty.
There was some connection, perhaps from their childhood, between Arthur Hyatt Williams and Griffiths.
July 4 Wednesday: I heard to my surprise that I had been awarded the BSc. I saw Brian White in the evening and discussed the Moreton Anti-War.
July 5 Thursday: I cycled to Grange after going to Liverpool and met whom but Woodward, then called on Brian White. We cycled to Moreton. He said that Woodward played the trombone but not very well. Arthur Hyatt Williams said he had an “Oedipus Complex”. And he has too. “I’m bringing the family tree,” he said when he met me, “the family being, tonight, myself and my mother.” Brian White expects little of him. He despairs of AH Williams too, for he gave up his brief militancy on account of a family quarrel with his “non-political” mother. Brian White is much more intelligent than either of them, indeed could be comparable with myself or Alan Morton. He is not totally unaware of it and referred to people “. . . who know very well, and can’t help knowing, without being conceited about it, that they are of above average intelligence.” He has also read widely. I think I will record more of him.
When I was most friendly with Arthur Hyatt Williams, in 1928-29, I was in his house. His mother had been a teacher but had as she thought married beneath her. I think the father may have worked in the shipyard. AH Williams was rather timid in everything. As for Brian White, he decided he must “reject” the Labour Theory of Value and ended by “rejecting” everything else as well. But he wrote a useful history of Liverpool.
July 6 Friday: The education department will not have me. I then applied for honours but do not know the result. I saw Patterson at Moore’s.
July 7 Saturday: Amid a motley of chromatic regalias, and half-choked by a stiff collar, I had pass thrown at me, paper aeroplanes dropped on me, and last but not least received a scroll and had to shake hands with Lord Derby. I was amused at the absurdity. It merits no more space. I saw George Wright and later Iver Mercer.
July 8 Sunday: Nothing much happened today. Mary Greaves and U. Basil Wiltshire [his aunt and her husband] arrive, from Cumberland.
July 9 Monday: I saw Brian White in the Picton. He walked down to the ferry with me and then went to James Street station. I have begun my study of the development of music in more detail.
July 10 Tuesday: The extreme heat grows daily more oppressive. Today the thermometer reached 87′ F and remained around 70′ all night. It has not rained since I went to Hawkeshead and the grass is brown and withered.
July 11 Wednesday: Today the temperature reached 90′. As a result the Anti-war conference was a failure. But Simpson of the ILP was there. In the afternoon I found Peddler had called a perfectly unnecessary meeting in Wallasey. George Evans was there.
July 12 Thursday: I saw George Wright in the morning and again at 7.30 pm. Iver Mercer came bringing Winter of the League of Nations Union. I explained our views on the causation of war. I also saw Piggott and Halliday. They both failed but will try their luck again. Piggott had met Darlington who cried in great jubilation, “Yes, I see Greaves has got a BSc.” I received a letter of congratulation from Bennett.
July 13 Friday: At long last it rained. In the afternoon I called on Darlington at Pensby. “I’ve gone Communist good and proper,” he declared. “I was going to write to you. I came down to Beechcroft that night but I didn’t come in. I didn’t like to barge into a room full of people I didn’t know, and presumably intelligent people.” Since my BSc the Darlingtons have come to the conclusion that I exercise a benign influence on Darlington, and they have bought him a new bus control with which he can come into Birkenhead. His father was there. He never talks. He shouts everything. He had seen a stoat in the garden, and spent three hours looking through the window to see if it came out again. It did and was visible hopping about the lawn, finally heading behind a bucket. A quarter of an hour later Mr D. howled, “There’s a mouse!” We looked and saw the stoat catch it and carry it to a hole in the rockery. From time to time he would interrupt our conversation with “There’s a bird asking for trouble!”, or “I wonder why that mouse ran back” and (later) “The devil! – eating my mouse!” At this point his voice wavered and he burst out laughing at his own wit. He is a representative selling Mazda lamps to wholesalers. We held an autopsy on Piggott’s and Halliday’s failures.
July 14 Saturday: I went to see Peddler, but he was out. The father is out of work. The eldest daughter is at a teachers’ training college in London, after having won the League of Nations essay three years running. Peddler is still at school and the family gets nothing for him. The youngest daughter is at the High School on a scholarship and they receive 2/- a week for her. They support Peddler’s political work. The mother is bright-eyed and intense like Coffey. The father one would expect from looking at him to be morose but is not. There is great moral force in a Labour household.
July 15 Sunday: George Wright called, and in the evening I went for a walk with Iver Mercer and discussed anti-war work. I think his family are not too pleased at his involvement in it.
July 16 Monday: In the morning I read. In the afternoon Darlington called and we went to see Clive Moore. He, instead of duplicating the leaflets as he had promised, had spent the day mending Jehovah’s car – “Jehovah” being a member of the curious sect of “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. Darlington became immensely energetic and cycled up to warn Iver Mercer not to come, and came with me to Griffiths’s to warn him. Darlington was furious with Clive Moore. Moore came home. He also was angry with Clive. But Coffey came and showed me how to work the machine.
In the evening Darlington and I traced Roland Watkins, younger brother of “ginger” Watkins who was called “hot” Watkins. We found him in the park listening to a performance of “The Merchant of Venice”, and went home with him. He has acquired some notoriety as a communist. When I was introduced Mrs Watkins said, “Oh, Yes – You are the clever young man.” Ginger Watkins is according to Darlington “being exploited good and proper.” It was I who imported “good and proper” from America, but it is Darlington’s stock phrase now. He has his own characteristic way of concluding an argument. “Now you listen to me, my lad – this is what you’ve got to remember. There is no doubt about it at all that. . .” Nothing is ever likely to happen; it is liable. We left at about 11.30 pm.
July 17 Tuesday: I spent the afternoon playing chess with Edge. In the evening we went to the anti-war meeting. There were Edge, Darlington, Iver Mercer, Griffiths, Jackson and his sister, George Evans, Westmore and his brother and Ivy Lee, but no Clive Moore. Peddler was there. I gave a speech on Ireland and Peddler said a few words.
July 18 Wednesday: In the morning Darlington came, also George Wright and Evans. Darlington said that both of the Watkinses are all for us. In the afternoon Edge came. In the evening only Smith and Fearon arrived at the (adult) Anti-war. Fearon on the way home presented me with a set of duplicated war poems he had written years ago. They had been shown to Wilfred Owen at Beechcroft. These are interesting but amateurish in versification. Both Smith and Fearon are old stagers and used to disappointments. All the same I wish we could rouse people.
The reference to Owen is surprising. It is difficult to see what he would be doing in Birkenhead after he achieved fame as a poet. Just possibly he kept in touch with Paton and may have visited him during the war. But at a public event?
July 19 Thursday: In the morning Edge called and later we met Iver Mercer outside Moore’s, but did not go in. When Clive Moore appeared I attacked him for his disgraceful failure. Mercer later admitted he would be in the YCL but for his family’s close connection with the Labour Party. RW went with him and George Wright to distribute the handbills.
July 20 Friday: I saw Darlington and RW in the morning. I am progressing quite well with the study of literature from a Marxist standpoint.
July 21 Saturday: The study of literature has come to a halt. I am held up. Also I am in difficulties over a poem I began.
July 22 Sunday: In the evening Edge called with Westmore and we walked to Barnston. Edge is of the opinion that Communism may come in very peacefully, but I don’t share it with him. It is unlikely that any of us will see the fruit of our labours, and the fruit may be tart at that.
July 23 Monday: In the morning I called on Darlington to see why he had not come yesterday. He had suffered a sudden relapse, swore he was anti-communist. But when later I met him with RW he had reverted again, probably because RW refused to be budged. I called on Edge to take him Inprecor [the Comintern journal, International Press Correspondence].
July 24 Tuesday: I played a game of chess with Edge and for once won. Then we went to see Peddler and had a long discussion on anti-war policy. I saw George Wright.
July 25 Wednesday: Iver Mercer called in the morning. In the Library I saw George Wright and Clive Moore. The Fasc-escent seed told me that the impecunious labourer was being made discontented by the efforts of such as myself. Edge called while I was out.
July 26 Thursday: I called on Edge. We discussed the prospects of escape in the event of a war. While I was there his aunt fell downstairs but seemed none the worse for it. We walked to Neston. Westmore has gone. Edge calls him “a queer bird, and very parsimonious with his cash”.
July 27 Friday: In the morning I did some writing. Edge came in the afternoon. I am tired of politics for the time being. After Sheffield I shall make for London and perhaps Portsmouth and try to write the novel. It struck me that my position in a proletarian dictatorship might depend largely on my position under capitalism. I saw Iver Mercer and George Evans in the evening.
July 28 Saturday: The weather has been most objectionable for the past week. It has blown great gales, scudded clouds of most portentous appearance across the sky and thrown them away without squeezing out one drop of rain. The wind dries everything. It is miserable to go out. Iver Mercer accompanied me to the Shiel Park demonstration. It was not very good. He says he prefers bourgeois to working class company because of its refinement. He has not noticed its philistinism. He misses the conversation of his sister who is out every night with Alan Wallace. Well, he appears to have the courage of his prejudice.
July 29 Sunday: I saw Peddler in the afternoon. He inveighed against Clive Moore and Bisson. He says the Chief Constable of Wallasey is a Fascist and openly helps these villains.
July 30 Monday: I had a visit from Iver Mercer in the morning. He was on his way to Farndon where he is going to live absolutely alone for a week. Then Halliday came. He says Robinson’s mother had died. Well, he has the sweet solace of religion. George Evans came for a moment. He is very extraverted and lives in a halo of himself.
One of the YCL members had been to the Shrewsbury flower show and said, “To see all those flowers almost makes you believe in God.” This youth was always of an emotional type, wished he had more education, used to read psychology at school where the headmaster took an interest in him. So there is a working class demand for art. But in any case I am going to have plenty now, glut myself with Haydn, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Handel and Gluck for fear I never hear them more. And I’ll see about that novel. The YCLer’s name was Bowman.
July 31 Tuesday: I saw George Wright and some others. Tonight I downed tools as regards politics.
August 1 Wednesday: I went over to see Darlington in the afternoon. He has backslided completely and succeeded in taking RW. with him. It poured rain and I borrowed a coat from him. He will concentrate on playing cards! Later Peddler called to say he is cycling to Sheffield but Brian White is not. So I arranged that we should make the journey together.
August 2 Thursday: It rained all day and I saw nobody. AEG is in London and can’t sleep at night for military aircraft. There was also a letter from Alan Morton and a card from Brian White.
August 3 Friday (Sheffield): In the morning Peddler called and we cycled through Chester, Twemlow, Buxton, Bakewell and so to Sheffield. He expounded Communism as the road to anarchism, which I agreed with. It was easy to see, he said, that a host of little things lay at the root of his class consciousness. Owing to overcrowding his father and mother could not sleep together, except when the children were away from home. His younger sister is working for 7/- a week. What education he has had has given him a taste for luxury, but a strong distaste for study, so he can go neither forward nor back.
The weather was showery and as we ran into a heavy shower on the way to the “Cat and Fiddle” we noticed a small tent. A man in his late twenties, wearing khaki shorts and a wide open-necked shirt hailed us and made us a cup of tea. He was unemployed and from the Rhondda. He had been to some unemployed training scheme where he had been taught to make some kind of pipe on which he blew a few plaintive notes. He explained, “it’s a craft”, and he proposed to initiate us into it, but we were not interested. Peddler remarked on the ingenuity with which the authorities manufacture diversions.
At Sheffield there was a great commotion outside the congress committee room. The camp was not ready; over-organisation had clogged the wheels; the healthy university youth with the flute-tongued voice was intoxicated by his powers of organisation; he felt “in charge”. He was arranging indoor accommodation and after much palaver sent me to a place which rather resembled a doss-house. A very dilapidated and worm-eaten gent, by his appearance the last thing in dissipation, walked in with a Scotch companion. “Pork pie, boss”, he called at the top of his voice. They heard I was at the “communist” convention. “Oh”, he asked, “do you travel about?” I said I did, only afterwards realising the meaning he put into the words. “We run a piano-accordion,” he intimated, “but it’s played out.”
I had previously had coffee with the publisher of “Out of bounds”, one Stanley of Parton Street. He was of markedly Jewish appearance, extremely so.
“Stanley” was indeed Jewish. His real name was Rubenstein and Gibbons of Portsmouth said to me, “My. I know him. He’s a bad boy.” Apparently he was sponging on the left-wingers among the public schoolboys. But they had plenty. The conference was the Youth Anti-war Conference. One of the main speakers was John Gollan.
August 4 Saturday: Next morning the conference began – late. I saw Brian White there in company with a very Nordic looking student with an amazing accent. His affectedness passed the bounds of belief. He would pace road, room or passage with a look of fatuous self-satisfaction on his face, grinning “look at me” to the world at large. Another of the same type wore khaki shorts and a green blazer; he was not so bad. And indeed Brian White himself was not entirely free of it. This scene typical of Oxford. They kept themselves very much secluded, and had nothing to do with the working-class people present. I accidentally penetrated an even holier of holies where (I was told later) Winston Churchill’s nephew was holding court with the truly select. The organisers and officials all seemed to belong to an aristocratic chapel. At first the enthusiasm elated me, but after a time the naíveté depressed me. The talk about “united front” and “all shades of opinion” was obviously ridiculous. All were communists but a very few. Communist literature was on sale. Revolutionary song-books were distributed. While we were waiting for the conference to begin dour sombre-faced Scotchmen from Dundee, wearing red ties but not one smile, sang songs about Soviet airmen. And the Internationale was sung at the end. Delegates competed for the distinction of giving the most glowing account. It was a boasting match. They bragged loud and long.
August 5 Sunday: I developed a gradually increasing dissatisfaction with the proceedings and decided to have no more doss-house. I had transferred to a decent hotel where John Strachey was staying. But even there I was not free, for some of them demanded that I should play the piano for their jollifications. After that there was a long argument with a man from the ILP. I had asked if there was anybody from Ireland and had a talk with Desmond Neill from Trinity College Dublin. I had got wet on Friday and began to feel the symptoms of a cold. I told Peddler that I was going to wear shorts for cycling in future, but he did not think it any advantage. As the speeches lengthened and the shrieks of enthusiasm grew more frantic I decided to go. My patience was exhausted. The students’ conference had been a lesson in absurdity. I saw nothing in it and set off at 5 pm. for Worksop where I stayed the night.
Desmond Neill later came to Liverpool to organise the Student Christian Movement [In later life he was a social work academic at Queen’s University, Belfast]. Years afterwards Leslie Daiken told me that he was at Sheffield, but I recollected nobody resembling him among the students. I think what repelled me was the profound sectarianism.
August 6 Monday (Cambridge): I cycled down the Great North Road through incredibly boring country and turned off to Cambridge and traced Woodward’s landlady. She was as good as stone deaf, but complained about the trombone, exclaiming “my poor ears!” She had a soft spot for Woodward but thought him of a light-hearted carefree disposition – another Donald Magee. When she asked him about his future he dismissed the question with, “Oh – I’ve plenty of money.” I did not look up Alan Morton but retired.
August 7 Tuesday (London): I spent the morning with Alan Morton and we had a long discussion covering politics and art. I said I disliked these “bolshevik” types, like Pendlebury who says his sole interest in life is politics. He agrees also that a great deal of rubbish is produced as “propaganda”. Also surely politics is the means to an end, not an end in itself. Alan Morton’s theory is that we shall neither of us produce anything of real permanent value because the world is in transition. But I do not entirely agree. I left at midday and cycled on. At St Johns Wood I saw a horse wounded by a car that had collided with it, a gruesome sight. I found a new set of terrors at Trafalgar Square but like Charlemagne his Pyrenees, I transcended the Thames and reached the comparative security of Brixton, where I stayed with RAW and WW[one of his aunts and her husband].
August 8 Wednesday: I spent the day in London.
August 9 Thursday (Portsmouth): I left London and cycled through Betchworth, Dorking, Godalming, Haslemere and Petersfield to Portsmouth [where his aunt, Mary Greaves, lived]. I developed a sore throat.
August 10 Friday: I got hold of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth; not much in it. I bought Pater’s Gaston de la Tour and George Gissing’s Will Warburton. The resort is crowded with visitors to “Navy Week”. There seems to be no sign of counter-activities. The Sheffield enthusiasm has no basis here.
August 11 Saturday: I spent the day between the beach and the pier. By the side of the bathing enclosures the noble animals bask in the ultra-violet, not to improve their health, which it doesn’t, but to obtain a gingerbread pelt. They sit on pebbly beaches, blistering under the sun’s rays, but sometimes chilled by a sudden gust of wind. The fetish is uncontested. Mothers order their children to lie still and sunbathe, completely ignoring the indisputable fact that nobody was ever the better for it. But it keeps them quiet. The first duty of parents is to keep their children’s minds as vacuous as possible, a duty which despite their failures in other respects, they perform with admirable success.
August 12 Sunday: This evening Harley Greaves [his first cousin] came here on his motor-bicycle. He had been up all night, and owing to this went asleep at the wheel, hit a car and a telegraph poll and damaged his machine. To make matters worse it rained all day. He was as pleasant as a slightly boorish and childish youth can be when he saw me. But his conversation is not enlightening.
August 13 Monday: Today Harley and Enid Greaves [another cousin] plus two others, joined the noble animals and baked themselves brown in wind and rain. Harley always shivers like an aspen after swimming, but persists that he feels better for it. I observe nothing but unusual fatigue.
August 14 Tuesday: In a letter Edge told me that a Cambridge communist wrote (him) a blood-curdling letter full of revolution and bravado. As his father’s name is also John, he opened it by mistake and there was a terrible to-do. Edge loudly denied he was a member of anything. From the Library I borrowed Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead, a History of Chinese Civilisation, Vol.1 of The Decline of the West and Marlowe’s works which I read again. In the evening I went to Portsmouth Chess Club.
August 15 Wednesday: I did nothing worth talking about today.
August 16 Thursday: Enid and Harley disported themselves in the sea which looks like a Pacific lagoon with south sea islanders invading coral islands with raised paddles and dreadful shrieks. And all the noble animals lined the beach. I listened to the Mozart concert.
August 17 Friday: One of U. Basil Wiltshire’s nephews came looking for a book. I recommended Trent’s Last Case. Theweather has greatly improved but Harley Greaves’s company is very trying.
August 18 Saturday: In the morning I sat in a deck-chair while the noble animals including Harley and Enid disported themselves. I played chess in the afternoon. At night I helped to break up a Fascist meeting.
August 19 Sunday: Today Harley Greaves went back to Liverpool on his crotchety old motorcycle crackling and spluttering. It is good riddance. I sat on the beach with the noble animals and read Marlowe.
August 20 Monday: I borrowed “Art and the Reformation”. There was a short letter from Edge who is home.
August 21 Tuesday: There was a letter from Halliday. I cycled to Southampton in hopes of meeting someone who knew Westmore.
August 22 Wednesday: I had toothache today. In the evening friends of U.Basil Wiltshire called and I had to play cards when I wanted to listen to the Promenade Concert. I had a letter from Mdlle. Adelin. She is in Dublin.
August 23 Thursday: I borrowed GB Shaw’s Three plays for puritans.
August 24 Friday: I went to a meeting of the ILP Guild of Youth, where the two girls who no doubt irregularly let me in, were very good, but the others of little value. It is a social club. A list of members and events is read, everybody taking it very flippantly.
August 25 Saturday: The matriculation results showed passes for Iver Mercer and BR., but Phyllis has only School Certificate again. A card came from Piggott.
August 26 Sunday: In the evening a handsome green van appeared on the common, and a Jewish organisation held an anti-fascist meeting. I was talking to Gibbons the organiser when a young man of about 19 sidled up and stood behind us. As he was a Fascist last week Gibbons upbraided him for “listening in,” but he explained that he had left the Fascists and wanted to know if there was a YCL here. Gibbons was not very inclined to admit him, but persuaded him to write an article for the Daily Worker on why he left the Fascists.
John Gibbons was a Scot, from Glasgow I believe, and was one of William Gallacher’s early proteges. I had a very high opinion of him. He spent most of his time in later years in Moscow, then in Prague.
August 29 Wednesday: I bought Sir Norman Angell’s book for 6d. and a copy of Yeats’s plays. Mary Greaves and Basil Wiltshire were in London.
August 30 Thursday: Massey wrote from Llandudno asking me to get him some Spartina Townsendii. I walked round the North End embankment from Twyford Avenue to Eastham, crossed the bridge and a short distance along the road to Manchester saw the plant growing in the water. I have been wearing new socks this week and white shoes, so bravely ventured in, but got only a small piece. But I saw two boys playing with a rowing boat, both wet through, and they kindly floated out and brought me a larger piece from the middle of the salt-marsh. I posted it to JD Massey.
August 31 Friday: I had to play cards with visitors again. In the morning I heard that the young man who had left the Fascists had written a letter to the Daily Worker. They reproduced the card with its black stamps.
September 1 Saturday: Having decided to depart on September 2, a very famous date for cycling, in the morning I went to do some shopping. I had on Thursday had the unusual experience of having “gerrarot” shouted at me by a small boy in a shop-door. Qualms immediately smote him for I heard him say, “Is that a boy or a man?” – it was like saying “Is that a bee or a wasp?” I decided to invite the confusion again and went to Beaumonts on Commercial Rd. and bought a pair of khaki shorts and a shirt to match. In the evening the renegade Fascist was to speak at the Town Hall, but I was inveigled once more into a card-playing session. I packed up all my property for postage and took only pyjamas, diary, razor and toothbrush.
September 2 Sunday (Frome): I awoke at 4 am. and got up at 6 am. The weather was perfect. Enid Greaves took a photograph of me. There is no doubt the modernist attire gives great freedom of movement, though I got my legs sunburnt. I crossed to Gosport, and went via Woolston to Southampton, then to Salisbury. After Wilton the weather changed. Cirrus appeared and by the time I reached Frome it was raining heavily. I went into a tea-shop and ordered a meal. There were several cyclists there, one a chemist with a water company in Hatfield who quoted Pope and on my challenging him said he scribbled poetry. From his general notions of things I did not think it would be very good. He must be fairly clever but he had the Englishman’s appalling sententiousness, and he made generalisations about ‘life’ and ‘conduct’, apparently believing that man is master of his fate. He was going to Bath, I to Bristol, but in view of the rain we stayed at Frome.
September 3 Monday: I forgot to say I had a letter from Edge on Saturday. He had been hoping to meet me in South Wales but his people have become awkward since the Cambridge letter and he is broke. I crossed the Severn at Chepstow and got as far west as Cowbridge, and stayed at the only place in the town, kept by an old woman, a “strong-minded” woman and her daughter who was utterly cowed by the old one’s nagging. I knew what to expect, a heavy bill, and it came, 7/-.
The reference to September 2 is to Sept. 2, 1927, when I made my first long cycle-ride of 88 miles – Ruthin, Corwen, Llangolen and Wrexham. I was just under 14. Edge’s letter came I think from John Cornford. I saw it later. There was nothing much in it, but the assumption that Edge was in the CP.
September 4 Tuesday (Abergavenny, Taff Vale): Today I saw things that previously I had no conception of. I went to Bridgend and turned up Cwm Rhonnda, over the hills to Porth and so to Pontypridd in the Taff Vale. I was astonished at the grime and squalor of those interminable villages built along one main street with derelict collieries on either side. It was raining heavily all the time and my shorts were wet to the pockets. But Peddler did not know what he was talking about. When the sun came out, despite its being cool, I was dry in no time. I had reached Merthyr by now. I asked a shop-boy where the CP headquarters was and he told me to go to Dowlais up the hill. There a couple of men pushing a cart directed me to the house of Danny Shea. He would be about 38, I should say, but had lost a leg in the war. He lived in the middle of an appalling slum. They are all Irish in Dowlais. Shea explained to me how wave after wave of foreigners were brought in as blacklegs – Irish, English, Jews – but they all joined the union and left the employers where they were before. A young man called Murphy took me to the football ground and to see houses built by the Quakers with voluntary labour, also to see Jack Williams who lives in the midst of the slum but has Das Kapital and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. After showing me some of the worst examples of sanitation I could ever have imagined, he took me over a hill, and showed me a magnificent valley stretching away unspoilt to the Brecon Beacons, and a fine park and museum. I had both lunch and tea with Danny Shea, who is the spiritual leader of the district. But he had nothing in the house and sent the children out to get things for me. I therefore decided to go and took my bicycle at 7 pm. and rode post-haste to Abergavenny where I found a CTC [Cyclists Touring Club] place kept by a man who had been controller of local food supplies during the war.
September 5 Wednesday (Aberystwyth): Today was the best for weather I have had. A very light west wind scarcely impeded my progress, broken and alternated in deep villages. The Brecon Beacons and both groups of Black Mountains looked their best. Between Aberayron and Aberystwyth I spoke to a tramp. He was over 70. He denounced the British government who were moving the Arsenal from Woolwich to Pembroke against the wishes of its inhabitants. He supported the USSR and denounced concentration camps and the Bryn Mawr system. He said “I have to travel about. I’m going to Leicester for my old age pension. It’s ridiculous to look for work.” He had a fair understanding of politics.
I stayed at Aberystwyth. After Portsmouth it seemed a sorry sight. There is nothing for people to do. So they spend shilling after shilling on gambling machines, and then walk about the streets, the men whistling when they see girls they think they might “get off” with. It is supposed to be a University town. It is dingy, tawdry and altogether “piètre”. I was moreover charged 5/6 at a very average place.
September 6 Thursday (Brigydon): I set off next day and following the advice of the landlord turned off towards Clarach over steep hills. I had been assured that this was a “short cut” and a “better road”. It turned out the worst road I was ever on! However I spoke to another tramp. He was originally from Birkenhead and went to sea in a windjammer at the age of 14. He had never been to school in his life. “And I’ll tell you what is the greatest impediment to human progress – the British Government! If I was to die tomorrow and I wanted to do something for humanity I’d go and murder this Sir Oswald Mosley. Oh! I wish four thousand of the working class had guts like me. We’d take one family apiece and kill the lot of ’em, spare nobody, males and females alike. Russia is far better since they’ve done away with their royalty. It stands to sense. Yet I was talking to some working men in Carmarthen and they wouldn’t believe it when I told ’em that the steel firms are all one. If you wouldn’t work at the rate Armstrong’s offered you, you might as well pack up your tools. They’d be no good to you. Yet they laughed. My education’s been travel, I said, the finest education there is, and if you’re so bloody ignorant as not to know this, I’m telling you; well, I’ll not argue, but you wait and see. Ach! There are young men, twentyone, selling themselves for two shillings a day. Terrible!” He then talked about dog-racing and the intelligence of dogs, and a flock of sheep appeared in the road. “Ach! They’re gormless creatures, they are. If one goes, the rest go. I hate ’em. I’m often afraid they’ll catch me up on the hills when I’m alone. One’ll come and you can’t get away from them. Hey! Don’t turn ’em back. It’s not our job. The dogs are no good, No bloody good. It’s buy a dog and bark yourself. Ay! They may well run after them. These dogs aren’t no bloody good.” He seemed very nervous about sheep but began again, “But leaving sheep and returning to the betterment of humanity. . . ” He “travelled about,” winter and summer.
We had then reached the top of the hill and I rode on to Borth on the vilest road ever misconstructed. There was worse to come. First I had to ride over hard sand, then to wheel over soft to the Aberdyfi ferry. Here there was a swift current and a cockle-shell boat. I got across in time at a cost of 1/-. A south-east gale developed and blew me to Barmouth. But the mist blurred the outlines in that magnificent view from the bridge. Finally I was blown to Pwllheli where I traced Halliday at Brigydonand had tea with him. I stayed the night.
September 7 Friday: Halliday and I went to the “Gimlet rock” to look at the waves, and I for one was soaked by one of them. The wind suddenly veered from South East to West and after coffee and an ice cream with Halliday I sent a telegram by telephone and set off via Criccieth, with rain threatening. By the time I reached Tremadoc and was climbing up towards Beddgelert it was pouring in torrents. But after Beddgelert it stopped and I saw clear blue sky over in the east, with warm looking clouds. After Capel Curig it was dry, at Betws it was hot. I stayed at my usual cafe in Cerrig y Drudion, and had Llys jam and tea, among other things. For the rest of the way home the wind blew from the south. It seemed to be still raining over Snowdon. I went down the hill to Corwen as I didn’t want to risk the moors and the hill at Clawdd Newydd in the dark. On Llandegla moor, though I knew the road, every inch of it, I had no means of telling how fast I was going. I saw white posts going past. They were much further apart than I thought. As a result I leapt on to the grass verge at Rhydtalog but regained the road at the bend. This was a lucky escape. It had been very warm on the moors but at Treuddyn I ran into an ice-cold pocket of it and had to put my coat on. After Queensferry all was smooth and I arrived at 11.58, my telegram having promised midnight.
September 8 Saturday (Liverpool): I did little today, went out walking with Edge in the afternoon. Halliday came to say he also had arrived safely.
September 9 Sunday: In the afternoon Iver Mercer called. He did well in his exams, gaining two “distinctions” in Physics and History I think (possibly English).
September 10 Monday: Very little was done today. Halliday called but I was out. I did some more thinking about a novel.
September 11 Tuesday: In the morning Halliday called because he was bored and bored me. In the afternoon I accompanied Edge to Rock Ferry baths where his sister Barbara was swimming. Who should be there but the same Halliday with brother Bryce. Despite the heat Edge had a thick overcoat, hat and stick.
September 12 Wednesday: I set out at 9 pm. with Edge who was afraid the mist would damage his eyes. His optician has forbidden him to read. He has catarrh. We cycled via Llandegla to Llandrillo and climbed the three peaks of Moel Sych. It was a delightfully warm day. Edge took off his coat and white woolen pull-over and tied the arms round his neck and looked like a public schoolboy returning from a cricket match. Later he produced a “beret”. He likes to look bourgeois. Coming back we left Corwen at 9.30 pm., had tea at Chester station at 12.45 and reached home at 2.45 am.
September 13 Thursday: There was a CP “aggregate” meeting tonight, but I did not attend. There was a Promenade Concert I wished to hear. It contained Haydn’s Feldpartata Divertimento which combines the St Anthony Chorale which Brahms popularized a semitone higher (the Bb one is for the open air), after Mozart’s Symphony No 40.
September 14 Friday: Charles Moat sent me a message via George Evans. I called on him and met Piggott there. We talked chess.
September 15 Saturday: I saw George Evans but nothing else of much importance took place. Indeed this was of no importance either.
September 16 Sunday: In the evening Iver Mercer called again. We talked about things in general, political and non-political. I also saw Griffiths.
September 17 Monday: I saw Edge and we went a short walk. I hear that Patterson and Snowden have quarrelled. Patterson retains the profits on literature and keeps a dangerous list of members and sympathisers, and alienates people by unnecessary frontal attack.
September 18 Tuesday: A certain Squire, secretary of the ILPGY [Independent Labour Party Guild of Youth], wrote telling me of his election to the Anti-War Council. He has been heard to say, “Greaves would go mad if he knew you communists were on the A-W Council. He’s one of the biggest pacifists there ever was.”
September 19 Wednesday: I lent Iver Mercer my bicycle lamp which he has not yet seen fit to return. I wonder what has happened to him. I told George Evans to tell him I needed it. I am doing another poem. I don’t feel like doing the novel yet. This week CEG and AEG are in Portsmouth.
September 21 Friday: I met Edge in the Library. I borrowed Brooks Adams’s Law of civilisation and decay which has two fine chapters on Rome and the Middle Ages. This book is the best “find” for a long time. Edge is reading Lenin’s Empirio-Criticism.
Smith (of the Wiend) drew my attention to the letter of one Cunningham of Borough Road, advertising a grand new peace society which would “also stand for the advance of all branches of art.” I guessed that this was the Colm Cunningham who was Arthur Hyatt Williams’ crony, and forthwith went to see Jackson who confirmed it. I visited this fool. He had evolved a wildcat scheme for bringing HG Wells and taking the Stadium. I saw Griffiths. He said Colm Cunningham was a worthless schemer, but that his brother is not so bad. Colm is to be a lawyer and is doing matriculation next week. He fancies he resembles Lord Birkenhead and anticipates a similar meteoric career. When I forecast the failure of their venture they called me a cynic. I saw Edge however, and having heard that Cunningham was of his age at the RFHS, I asked after him.
“Yes. I know,” says John, “He is absolutely untrustworthy. He asked to be the president of the Young Imperialist League. He idolises Lord Birkenhead, and has an ambition matched by his unscrupulousness.” At chess I left a note for Iver Mercer.
September 22 Saturday: I chanced upon George Evans on my way to Wallasey. He was striding off in togs and football boots to play a game called “Rugby” football which differs from the ordinary kind by entailing holding and running about with the ball, which consequently has to be shaped like a sausage. To score a goal you have to kick it twice as high as in the other game. The game is even sillier than ordinary football. I reached Wallasey and received a pile of literature I had not ordered. Peddler was away at a conference in Manchester. I saw Mrs Peddler who objected to having literature planted on her. Often the people Peddler leaves it on cannot pay, so he goes deeper into debt.
In the evening I went to the Haymarket, but there were so many policemen there that I went to Moore’s. “I never go down to the Haymarket because of that,” said Moore. “You can always imagine them giving you a shove and a ‘move on there’ and then when you remonstrate running you in for obstructing the police.”
Incidentally George Evans is very much under the influence of a Mr Towers whom Moore describes as a very timid socialist. Nevertheless he is to give an anti-war talk on Wilfred Owen.
September 23 Sunday: I saw Snowden in the morning. Later I received a visit from Iver Mercer who has had influenza.
September 24 Monday: I saw Edge and we walked for a time.
September 25 Tuesday: Little happened. I had guessed that as Cunningham’s start was so ridiculous it must have Lawrence Batty behind it. But it hadn’t. Batty is engaged as “English office” of a boys’ international paper, and who should be his assistant but Eric Ekins – as always full of odd schemes without any point to them.
September 26 Wednesday: I saw Edge in the day and Iver Mercer called in the evening. He admits the superiority of the CP, and if it comes to the worst his mother would tolerate him being in it. But his father would be better pleased if he joined the Fascists.
“Wilkie” Mercer, Ivor Mercer’s father, came into Labour politics in Belfast where Phyllis Mercer was born. After they had moved to Liverpool he was still the politician. On one occasion he was unable to address a meeting and she took his place. She was an emotional speaker and was so successful that she got all the invitations from then on, and he left politics in disgust. People from Ireland used to drop in to see Wilkie, for example “Jonty” Hannigan.
September 27 Thursday: I was 21 today and conceived the project of a celebration tonight. So I called on Edge and Halliday, Piggott, Miss Welsh, and a friend of Phyllis’s. They all came and Enid Greaves blew in. When the party was over Halliday and I walked to Barnston. Coming back up the hill we were astonished at the gusts of warm wind coming from the East. We got back at about 3 am.
September 28 Friday: Today’s weather was superb – 78’F in the shade. I hope it continues. I went to see Squires of the ILPGY. He was at the Institute, of Bennett’s year I think. I was at the Chess Club. I borrowed Andre Gide’s La porte etroite and La symphonie pastorale, also Tolstoy’s What is Art?, which is a very interesting and controversial book.
September 29 Saturday: Today it rained heavily all day. The temperature is a niggardly 61’F. The Fascists marched in Manchester today and Clive Moore led a cyclists detachment to oppose them. They carried posters on their machines and rode in ostentatious formation.
In the evening AEG and CEG returned from Bristol having left Portsmouth on Friday. There was naturally much news. As soon as they came in Phyllis turned on the gas tap and talked continuously till midnight when, exhausted by her loquacity, she went to bed. I wrote the first section of my book on the development of art.
September 30 Sunday: In the morning I typed the chapter and read a little. I played the piano in the afternoon. At 6 pm. Iver Mercer came. Unlike George Evans he is punctual. We called on Edge who was out. He had gone to see Guthrie and must have forgotten the Anti-Sedition Bill meeting. So we went over ourselves and Clive Moore and Bowman showed us into the shilling seats despite our 6p tickets. Kidd of the NCCL spoke, and conceited little Dennis of the League of Young Liberals. Ted Williams of the ILP called us all “comrades” and talked (sensibly enough) about the “claaass” struggle. I think he may be a Canadian.
October 1 Monday: In the morning Edge called and I showed him my chapter on art. It seems he had forgotten Sunday’s meeting. He is busy as he goes away tomorrow.
I vaguely remember this chapter. Its loss has not seriously impeded intellectual progress. It was a matter of arranging ignorance in accordance with preconceived misunderstanding.
October 2 Tuesday: I saw George Wright in the morning and heard that Arthur Hyatt Williams had told him that Colin Cunningham had received a card from GB Shaw telling him that he “did not speak at Sunday School treats, church teas, sales of work” etc. etc.
In the evening I attended the LBS [Liverpool Botanical Society] meeting. Dr Green was better than usual. The newspapers were very deferential this morning and I saw Hardy of the Daily Post at the meeting. I had a word with Atherton from Penketh. He is about 15 and a more effeminate specimen could not be found. His hair is waved into a billowy crest, and exudes an overpowering scent. He talks excitedly and superficially, like a flapper giggling and dancing at every supposed sally. He is however quite a field botanist and a collector. He must look odd with his fragrant and anointed head and his feet knee-deep in mud as he collects water plants. To go into the city I cycled through the tunnel. Very interesting.
October 3 Wednesday: In the morning I saw Jackson who told me an amplified tale of Cunningham, not making too much of his own part in it. Cunningham inserted a notice in the Birkenhead News, one of whose reporters he regards as an ally, though he is not, to the effect that every week there would be a peace meeting at the Park entrance, a wide space in the west centre of the township. He signed himself “Pax.” The speaker was to be none other than Arthur Hyatt Williams. Jackson went to the meeting place and twenty minutes past the advertised time Cunningham rolled up in a luxurious Daimler. This belonged to Amos, the man who was to provide him with £20 for the Stadium, something they still talk about, though Thomas Cunningham is beginning to glimpse the absurdity of the whole thing. Colin Cunningham was swearing no more truck with AH Williams. He persuaded the LNV [Liverpool National Veterans?] to allow him to say that their speaker had not materialised and there would be no meeting, something he also communicated to the police. Jackson overheard the LNV ask him
“And what is your society called?”
“The World Society for Peace and Art”, says Cunningham.
“Hm,” said I to Jackson, “’The Birkenhead World Society for Peace and Art.’ The whole thing is on a par with LB’s ‘World Correspondent.’”
I met Edge in the afternoon. In the evening I gave another party, attended by Bennett, Donald Magee, Edge, Hodge, Halliday, George Wright, Iver Mercer, Piggott, Westmore and Jackson. Darlington could not come. Edge goes to Cambridge tomorrow, Hodge to Oxford. He remarked that when I called on him it was his grandmother I met.
” I saw your Spanish friend this afternoon,” she told him.
“Oh Yes. His name was Cleeves. He was very polite and bowed to me before he went.”
I’ll have to learn Spanish – and oddly enough I was thinking about it.
October 4 Thursday: I played chess with George Wright in the afternoon and won twice. I am ahead of him at the moment. Later I saw George Evans and went to the ILP whist drive with Wright. Clive Moore, Lunam and Bowman were there. Later still I saw Jackson.
October 5 Friday: I saw Smith (of the Wiend) whose brother-in-law is Stephen, president of the Secular Society, whose publications he showed me. He told me that 35 years ago, after being reared in an atmosphere of religious puritanism, he was moved to go to “Brunswick” Wesleyan “Brotherhood”, and he ultimately became its secretary. The attraction was a very notable preacher with a double-barrel name – was it Campbell-Walker? But this worthy cleric had a call from God to go to a better-paid post. Later he was divorced by his wife, wandered to Manchester and has lived bankrupt in a slum ever since. These events and others so disgusted Smith that he went away and read the “Freethinker”. In the lunch hour Charles Moat came with a message from Iver Mercer but I didn’t go because Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was on the wireless.
October 6 Saturday: I saw George Wright and later called on Charles Moat and lost two games on pawns. There have been loud protests from senior boys, in particular Hunt and Leyton, that they are not allowed to attend the Old Boys’ Chess Club, and accuse it of trying to break its connection. While this is not true, Moat would not be averse, if we could find a cheap room. He told me how when he first came to Liverpool he was amazed at the backwardness of the “second city of the realm” as it then was. There was not a single place of amusement open on a Sunday. Indeed there is none now, either. When he has tea in bed on a Sunday morning his landlady refuses to bring it into the room. Once she left a kipper outside the door and the cat took it, and left pieces everywhere. One Sunday she came in while he was playing a complicated solitaire on the table. “You see I’m breaking the Sabbath, Mrs Jones,” he ventured good-humouredley. “Oh. I’m not narra, Mr Moat,” she replied.
October 7 Sunday: Nothing much happened. Iver Mercer called. I remembered a recent observation by Piggott apropos of Mercer, “I had imagined him to be a remarkable individual and rather to my surprise I found he was not.” There is a do-nothing affectation of laziness in Iver Mercer. I think there is affectation in it. Squires of the ILP however asks, “Is there any life in that fellow?”
October 8 Monday: I went over to enrol and met Riddell. In the evening Lunn called to tell me of Donald Magee’s rumoured return to the university. It is surprising for he loathes it and says he cannot make friends there. He is not to be blamed for disliking it. It is only a provincial training college for teachers.
October 9 Tuesday: Today I returned to the University and am informed by the Professor of the ridiculous crazy thing he wants me to do for Honours, to wit, the disinterring of historical documents about some old herbalist called Schleiden. It seems that this amiable defunct did something similar to the professor’s work on ovulas. I can scarcely imagine anything less satisfactory. And to make matters worse, of five of us doing honours, two are the sheep in the upper laboratory, and three of us the goats, with no real guarantee of being able to proceed. Powell told me how he had been induced to take three subjects for finals on the promise that he would be permitted to take honours. Twenty fell in with this and worked like galley-slaves, and only two were allowed into the honours school.
In the evening the anti-war meeting was held and attended by myself, Iver Mercer, Jackson, Wright, Simpson of Thurstaton, Smith of the Wiend, one Wood, Squire, Clive Moore and others. We decided on a Park Gate meeting. Simpson and George Wright will speak.
It is hard to think of anything more extraordinary than my approach to the honours school. I can’t of course have been serious in calling Schleiden a herbalist! But I had been pitchforked into it without the slightest consultation. And certainly I was given N0 help, zero. Of course I had not wished to do honours. None of us had any hope of a job. And the shadows of war were growing darker. I did get some papers by Schleiden in French translation, but if I had learned German (which I had little interest in) I could have made something of Schleiden – even my name. And yet – if I had I would not have gone into Chemistry, might not have been immune from military service, and might have been dead years ago!
October 10 Wednesday: In the evening Iver Mercer came and we decided to write to political organisations.
October 12 Friday: The Fascists in the botany laboratory have been reinforced by two fools straight from school. As for HW Jones, he now calls himself a socialist, but is an irresponsible oaf at best, of the Arthur Hyatt Williams crowd. I defeated LB Wood at chess. Charles Moat was there, also George Wright. Whalley brought in a grand new game called hexagonal chess, very complicated and brain-splitting. Later George Wright and I called on Smith at the Wiend.
October 13 Saturday: I saw Wright in the morning. Later when I saw Iver Mercer he told me of the unofficial declaration of the Labour Party not to support the campaign against the Sedition Bill. I called on RE. and returned his ticket. Guthrie and Batcheldore were there. I called on Enid Greaves who gave me the photographs she took in Portsmouth. One of Harley Greaves’s study friends was there.
October 14 Sunday: I went to Eastham to look for fungi. In the afternoon Iver Mercer came. It rained so much that Smith and I decided not to go to the Park gates.
October 15 Monday: Today was cold, wet and miserable. I saw Piggott and Halliday. I attended a preliminary meeting at Riddell’s. The architect lecturer, Stevenson, the Bohemian was there and I came away with him. He is about 27 years old. He said that in the Architects’ department the finer type of student is inclined to seek the solace of religion. He did not think that students who became communists had always borne the seeds of rebellion as I suggested. He talked of them receiving hard knocks. This may be true, though not of Edge. Stevenson is an interesting man, but there is nothing of Alan Morton about him. Alan is a far bigger proposition.
October 16 Tuesday: Nothing much happened. The Secular Society have indicated their willingness to cooperate on the committee against the Sedition Bill. There was a YCL meeting at night.
October 17 Wednesday: It has been miserable and rainy all day. I discussed with Wh. the possibility of going to Wales at the week-end on a Botany excursion. He suggested going to the Youth Hostel at Ogwen. I agreed after some deliberation and hesitancy.
October 18 Thursday: I frequently lunch these days with Gordon Riddell, the musician, younger brother of Riddell. The brother is a far more human type, with a taste for the arts. He is not brilliant, though. But he is not nearly so slavishly Marxist as Riddell. He finds out Marx for himself.
At this time Riddell had largely faded out of University politics. I think he had finished his teachers’ training but worked for his father who had a small business. He had taken a flat in Toxteth, the areas off Prince’s Road then being quite respectable bed-sitter land. Later he left for London. I was not sorry to see him go. I asked him why he did not go to the weekly music recitals. He said, “Music makes me soft.” Wh. was Whelan, a history student. Riddell’s business was that of steeplejacks.
October 19 Friday: At the chess meeting Whalley demonstrated the Queen’s pawn opening. He claimed that all variations give white the advantage and that therefore the best reply to P-Q4 is not P-Q4. Even so we succeeded in making black’s best line give an equal game.
October 20 Saturday: I met Whelan outside the tunnel and we went by way of Corwen, Cerrig and Bettws to the banks of the Ogwen and stayed at the Youth hostel. I was not impressed.
October 21 Sunday: We returned with very little. It had rained all the time. Whelan told me he was a great friend of Eslich, the precise one, whom Miss Burgess was telling me all about in the train from Hawkeshead. I told Whelan the story and he was vastly amused. Apparently Eslich is very much tied to his mother’s apron, hence his choice of the older woman. In return I heard what Eslich had said of myself, “He is quite mad but terribly brainy.” When I reached home I took a tot of whiskey, as I was afraid of catching cold.
October 22 Monday: I lunched with Gordon Riddell and Alun Williams of the No More War movement. He is sympathetic to us in theory but not in practice. We denounced the scandalous business of the police who yesterday baton charged a peaceful anti-fascist demonstration. Pargood, that fat porky Fascist, came past and glared at us. Riddell thinks he is a sexual pervert. As for Clutton his odd tastes are known. He used to shock Ivy Welfare with his talk. Riddell says his hand is cold and clammy and inspires a physical revulsion. Clutton delights in revolving in his mind the cruelty and horror of warfare, gloats over the notion of sticking men like pigs and chuckles sadistically over refinements of torture.
October 23 Tuesday: I lunched with Riddell, Gordon Riddell and Westmore. They told me how Clutton took caffeine before his examination, in order to keep awake. Then when he could not sleep he took bromide at the OTC [Officers Training Corps]camp. Peter Evans tells of how he stripped off and ran amok, shouting and urinating and finally tried to commit suicide. He has, said Riddell, a conspiracy complex. In Havelock Ellis’s book on sexual psychology, which he used to carry about with him, he concealed a small camera with which he took photographs of prominent socialists which he sent to the police. He spied on a Chinese and a German student. Then Alun Williams, the leech as Riddell calls him, interrupted us.
Now in the afternoon Hamling who is responsible for placing the posters that advertise the Socialist Society meetings, was found to have omitted all but one small one in the Union last night. Riddell and I spoke to him, and to all intents and purposes he had taken leave of his senses and was laughing, giggling and talking absolute nonsense. We thought he had gone mad. Others have observed it. It is suspected that his failure in his economics degree has soured him. We had to apologise to Professor Rice who took tea with us and promised to speak next week.
At the YCL meeting Clive Moore told of the brutality of the Fascists at the Stadium. These were not reported in the press. He saw boys lifted out of seats by their hair. There was a bloodlust on the faces of the Fascists, including that of Clutton. Plain clothes men walked beside the procession pointing out malcontents who were promptly seized and beset by the police. Cordons were drawn across the road in unbelief and those who wished to go to the Stadium were forced to circumambulate through lanes and alleys.
October 24 Wednesday: In the evening Iver Mercer called. He is going to Farndon but is making a mystery of who is going with him. He is in a bad mood with George Evans.
October 25 Thursday: In the middle of the day I attended the music recital with Riddell and Colqhoun. It seems Colqhoun was the principal school friend of Riddell’s. He says the YCL is useless. (He attended two meetings.) Colqhoun has acquired a deep interest in music, under the Bach-promoting influence of Dr Wallace. Later there was a Russian film exhibited in the Architecture lecture. It was very interesting. I have been trying to get in touch with George Evans. He missed the YCL meeting.
October 26 Friday: I found nobody at the YCL so went down to George Evans’s. To my surprise I was told he had gone with Iver Mercer to Farndon. “How many of them have gone?” I asked. “Two tonight and Bray and another tomorrow. You know this Mercer, don’t you? His name’s Iver, isn’t it?” Later I went to see Charles Moat. In the day Dr Knight took us to Neston and Burton Wood in her car.
October 27 Saturday: I went to the Library and borrowed Elliot Smith’s Diffusion of Culture. I have just read Rivers’s Psychology and Ethnology. It is interesting though I find some of his conclusions doubtful. I finished and typed a new poem called “The untouchable” and sent a copy to Alan Morton.
October 29 Monday: At the YCL branch we noted the increasing slackness of George Evans. Also the defection of Miss Ivy Lee.
October 30 Tuesday: A meeting was held at Beechcroft attended by representatives of the Secular Society, the Quakers, the Anti-war Movement and the ILP. The Guild’s representatives did not arrive. We decided to go on opposing the Sedition Bill even though it is late in the day and there is talk of a (National) Council for Civil Liberties – perhaps a local branch.
October 3l Wednesday: I went for the first time to Professor Rosenburg’s lecture on the history of the working class. Clutton has vowed to have the refugee savant back in the hands of the Nazis. The same man, when a professed communist, used to crawl on his belly spying on Altcar shooting range with binoculars!
* * *
[End of Volume 1, c.50,000 words]
GREAVES JOURNAL, VOLUME 1, INDEX 1933-4
22 September 1933 – 31 October 1934
– Aesthetics and verse: 9.22-23, 9.25, 9.27, 9.30, 10.12,10.18, 10.22, 10.26, 10.29, 11.5, 11.7-8, 11.10, 11.14,11.18, 11.28, 12.9, 12.29, 1.3, 1.7, 1.10-11,1.13-14, 1.18, 2.15, 2.17-19, 3.28, 3.31, 4.6-7, 4.11, 4.16, 4.18, 4.23, 4.28, 5.3, 5.12, 5.24, 5.31, 6.1, 6.13, 6.15-16, 6.18, 7.30, 9.29, 10.1
– Assessments of others: 9.23, 10.2, 10.10, 10.15,10.20-21,10.25- 26, 12.6, 12.11,12.21, 1.16, 3.17, 3.21-22, 4.18, 4.21- 22, 4.26, 4.29, 5.6-8, 5.10, 5.23, 5.27, 6.4, 7.14, 7.18, 7.28, 8.4, 8.11, 9.2, 9.22,10.7
– Boyhood and schooldays: 9.22, 9.26, 12.21, 1.13
– Chess: 9.26, 10.17, 10.25, 11.14, 11.24, 12.3, 1.12, 1.24, 2.9, 3.16, 4.7, 5.7, 5.10, 9.14, 10.12, 10.19
– Communism/socialism: 12.14, 1.4, 3.29, 4.2-6, 4.11, 4.14, 4.16, 4.19, 4.24, 4.26, 4.28, 4.30, 5.3, 5.6, 5.12, 5.17, 5.19, 5.22-4, 5.26, 5.31, 6.1, 6.4-5, 7.18, 7.22, 8.3, 9.4
– Family relations: 9.22, 9.27, 3.11, 8.12-13
– Fascism/Nazism: 12.14, 1.4, 2.22, 3.21-3.22,4.27-8, 5.3, 7.29, 8.18, 8.26, 9.6, 9.29, 10.22-23
– Holidays/cycle trips and tours: 9.23, 10.15, 1.3, 2.9, 3.29, 4.18, 5.18, 9.2, 9.4-7, 9.12, 10.20
– Ireland and Irish affairs: 7.17, 8.5, 8.22, 9.4
– Journal: 10.15, 10.31, 4.21, 6.1
– Meteorology: 11.22, 1.3
– Music: 9.23, 9.27, 9.29-30, 10.1, 10.3, 10.7, 10.9, 10.11, 10.19, 10.23, 11.18, 11.21, 12.8, 12.13, 12.14-15, 12.24, 1.13, 2.4, 2.13, 2.27, 3.24, 3.31, 4.1, 7.9, 7.30, 9.12, 10.5
– National question: 10.25, 1.31
– Peace movement/war danger: 9.30, 10.2, 10.5, 10.8, 3.7, 3.14, 3.22, 4.17, 4.24, 5.11, 5.15-18, 5.24-25, 6.5, 6.9, 6.15, 6.19, 6.22, 6.26, 7.18, 7.26, 8.3, 9.18
– Pen-pal: 10.25,11.3, 2.11, 3.13, 3.31, 4.9, 4.16, 4.27, 5.2, 5.4, 8.22
– Political development: 2.12, 3.22, 3.28-29, 3.31, 4.2-5, 4.11, 4.14, 4.16-17, 4.19, 4.22-26, 4.30, 5.6, 5.11-12, 5.17, 5.19, 5.22, 5.24, 5.26, 5.31, 6.1, 6.4-5, 6.15, 6.28, 7.18, 7.22, 7.27, 8.3, 8.18, 9.4
– Politics (International): 10.8, 1.13, 2.22, 3.7, 3.14, 3.21-22
– Profession, professional work: 10.16, 2.3, 7.4, 7.6-7, 7.13
– Public speaking: 1.9, 5.15
– Reading: 9.23, 10.2, 10.6, 10.8, 10.11, 10.20, 10.25, 10.28, 11.2, 11.4, 11.6, 11.11, 11.14, 11.18, 11.21, 11.25, 12.6, 12.10, 12.13, 12.15, 12.18-20, 12.22-24, 12.27, 1.2, 1.5, 1.8-9, 1.10-11, 1.13-15, 1.24, 1.27, 1.31, 2.6, 2.8-10, 2.12, 2.14, 2.24, 2.25, 2.28, 3.3-4, 3.10, 3.17, 3.23, 4.1, 4.3, 4.7, 4.14, 4.16, 4.21, 4.25, 4.27, 5.2, 5.6, 5.9, 5.12, 5.19, 5.26, 8.10, 8.14, 8.20, 8.23, 8.29, 9.21, 9.28, 10.27
– Religion: 10.10, 12.15, 12.22, 1.9, 4.7, 4.15, 4.24, 6.3
– Science/Philosophy: 9.26, 10.20, 10.27, 11.19, 11.22, 11.29, 12.5, 3.21, 4.26, 4.7, 5.26, 6.1
– Self-assessments: 10.13, 10.15, 10.16, 10.19, 10.26, 10.28, 10.31, 11.2, 11.19, 11.29, 12.14, 12.28, 1.10, 1.13-14, 3.17, 3.21-22, 5.15-16, 6.5, 6.23, 6.30, 8.7, 10.1,10.3, 10.9, 10.21
– Sex, love, marriage: 10.9, 12.20, 3.13, 3.21, 3.25, 4.7, 4.21, 5.7, 5.21
– University studies: 9.29, 10.6, 10.19, 10.24, 10.26, 10.31, 11.6, 11.8, 11.14, 11.20, 12.12, 12.15, 12.18, 1.11, 2.16, 3.16, 3.18-19, 4.20, 4.26, 5.7-8, 5.12, 6.1-2, 6.14-15, 6.27, 7.4, 7.6-7, 7.13, 10.8-9
Organisation Names Index
Birkenhead Institute school: 10.6-7, 10.18, 10.24, 11.30, 12.21, 2.3, 2.22, 3.2, 4.12, 4.27, 6.9, 6.7, 9.28
Birkenhead Youth Anti-War Movement: 4.26, 6.9, 6.15, 6.19, 6.21, 6.26, 7.3, 7.11, 8.3-4, 9.18, 10.9
Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB): 5.17-20, 5.24, 5.26, 6.4-5, 6.16, 8.4
Educational Workers’ League: 6.28
Federation of Student Societies (FSS): 5.30
Independent Labour Party (ILP): 5.31, 9.18, 9.30
Labour Party (British): 5.23, 5.26
Liverpool Botanical Society: 9.26-27,10.4,10.30, 12.11, 1.11, 1.30, 2.6, 3.6, 4.28, 10.2
Socialist Society, Liverpool University: 4.30, 5.1, 5.16-17, 5.30, 10.23
Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR (SCR): 5.17
Young Communist League (YCL): 5.20, 5.26-27, 6.4, 6.7, 6.12, 6.27, 6.30, 7.30, 10.29
Personal Names Index
Adelin, Adele Mmle.: 3.31, 4.9, 4.16, 4.27, 5.2, 5.4, 5.24, 8.22
Allison, JE.: 9.22, 12.8, 12.21, 6.5
Angell, Sir Norman: 3.7
Barr: 5.28, 5.30-31
Batty, Lawrence: 9.27, 10.15
Bevin, Ernest: 5.23, 5.26
Campagnac, Professor: 2.3
Cathcart: 10.5, 10.9
Coffey, Nugent: 6.16, 7.14, 7.16
Colqhoun:10.10, 11.20-21,11.24, 2.19, 3.28, 4.30, 5.7, 10.25
Cornford, John: 9.3
Daiken, Leslie: 8.5
Darlington, Harold: 10.13,1.17-18, 3.21, 5.21, 7.13
Edge, John: 9.28, 10.1-2, 12.11, 3.29, 4.14, 5.16, 6.5, 6.30, 7.22, 7.26, 8.14, 9.3
Evans, George: 9.27, 10.2, 10.19, 5.20, 5.26, 6.12, 9.22
Evans, Peter: 4.30, 5.1, 5.17, 5.30,
Garstang, Professor: 11.17
Gollan, John: 8.3
Greaves, Mary: 8.9
Green, Dr Theodore: 9.26, 10.4, 11.15, 12.11, 2.6, 4.28, 10.2
Halliday, John Alexander: 9.22 , 4.11, 4.17, 4.25, 5.29, 5.31, 6.15
Hamling, Wlliam (Bill), later MP: 5.1,10.23
Hodge, Alan Searle: 9.23, 10.5, 10.15, 12.24, 1.16, 1.22, 2.16, 2.26, 4.1-2, 4.4, 4.8, 4.16, 4.18, 5.5, 6.1
Hughes, E.Wynne: 10.2, 10.5,10.15, 12.21, 2.3, 3.2, 3.9, 6.9
Jackson: 10.26, 3.20, 5.3
Jones, AO: 10.24, 6.7
Knight, Dr.: 6.2
Lee, Dr.: 10.30
Lunn: 9.22,10.9, 10.15, 10.19, 4.18
McGree, Leo: 5.1
Magee, Donald: 9.23, 10.4, 10.6, 10.13,10.20
Matthias, Mr: 6.2, 6.22
Mercer, Iver: 4.12, 6.9, 6.19, 6.30, 7.15, 7.19, 9.26, 10.7, 10.13
Mercer, Phyllis:12.25, 1.27, 2.3, 4.8-9, 4.12, 4.18
Millner-Brown, Miss: 9.30
Moat, Charles: 9.26, 10.6, 3.2
Moore, Clive (Jnr.): 5.20, 5.26-7, 6.7, 6.20, 7.16, 7.25, 9.29
Moore, FC (Snr.): 5.19-20, 5.23-24, 5.26, 6.15, 6.28, 9.22
Morton, Alan Geoffrey: 9.23, 12.11, 1.4, 1.10, 3.28-29, 3.31, 5.16, 5.18, 5.22-24, 6.2, 6.5, 6.30, 8.7, 10.15, 10.27
Neill, Desmond: 8.5
Owen, Wilfred: 10.2, 10.5, 10.20, 10.23, 11.29-30, 12.27, 7.18
Piggott, John: 9.22, 10.4, 10.6,10.20, 12.27, 1.28, 4.22,
Pritchard, James: 1.16
Rawlings, Joe: 6.16
Riddell: 5.17, 5.26, 5.28, 5.30, 10.15, 10.18
Smallpage, J.: 10.5, 10.23
Thompson, Professor McLean: 9.26,11.6, 4.21, 6.2
Watts, WH.: 11.14, 12.21, 5.10
Westmore: 9.28, 10.2, 11.11, 12.28, 3.22, 4.16, 4.21
White, Brian: 5.25, 5.31, 7.3-5, 8.2, 8.4
Williams, Arthur Hyatt Williams: 10.6, 3.17, 5.25, 5.31, 6.7-8, 6.22,
7.3, 7.5,9.21, 10.3,10.12
Wright, George William Dentith: 9.22, 10.14, 3.8, 4.18, 4.23
Yaffe: 11.14, 5.10