Saturday, July 02, 2016

Albert Wainwright illustrates Wilfred Rowland Childe

In the first two or three decades of the Twentieth Century, there was a genre in literature, a minor one to be sure, that we don't see so much if at all now: the 'prose sketch'. Not an essay, perhaps only a couple or three hundred words long, a description of a place, a person or an event. It was a minor piece of writing about a minor subject but done with care and love. In the realm of gay literature we might look to Leonard Green and his 'prose fancies' describing the fleeting beauty of a lad on the train, or perhaps a stunning Gloucestershire landscape and the handsome shepherd who walked through it.

Wilfred Rowland Childe was a poet, an editor and critic, a minor writer who rejoiced in a Harrow and Oxford education and in the friendship of Tolkien. He fought in the First World War and is therefore sometimes counted among the 'war poets'. He was born in Wakefield and lived in Leeds for much of his life and so his literary and artistic circles were northern to a large extent. This is surely how he came to be occasionally published by The Swan Press, an independent concern run by fellow Leeds-man Sydney Matthewman. The Swan Press was also where Front Free Endpaper favourite Albert Wainwright found an outlet for his writing and book illustrating. And this is how I came to receive the book above in the post today: a collection of prose fancies illustrated, and decorated by Albert Wainwright and published by Matthewman. The fancies in this book are Roman Catholic in tone but of a particular kind and of that particular age where the native paganism of Britain still infused them: an elegy to Bacchus in a British Yew wood sits next to a description of the sensuous darkness of the sanctuary at High Mass. It is a delightful book and ensures that I shall be looking out for more of Childe in the future.

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