Monday, 23 January 2017

Raymond Sheppard and William Joseph Blyton (W. J. Blyton) (Part Two)

English Cavalcade is the focus of this second article on W. J. Blyton. (the first being here on Rolling Year).

English Cavalcade Dustjacket

English Cavalcade Dustjacket


Saturday Review 20 February 1937 p135-136
Stanley B. James, for The Catholic Herald reviewed this work as its book of the week, 2 April 1937 (p.4) under the title  "Men And Shires: Geographical Approach To Literature"

Facing Page One of this pleasant book is a map of Great Britain bearing the first headline of this article. The idea of this map, which is the idea of the book, is brilliantly conceived. Instead of counties and towns one sees, scribbled in, the names of poets, novelists, essayists, etc., giving a bird's-eye view of the country viewed from the standpoint of one whose interests are tied up, at least for the time being, only with masters of the pen.
And if we have maps showing density of population or the mineral resources of our land, why should we not have one drawn to illustrate the associations of the various shires with our national literature? We frequently speak of Bookland; well, here it is, superimposed on and, as Euclid taught us to say, coinciding with, the contour of our island home. There follow pages packed with a surprising wealth of literary gossip and apt quotation interwoven with sketches of the country through which we are passing, the whole being charmingly illustrated by the author and Raymond Sheppard,
If the literary approach to geography is new, so is the geographical approach to literature. Moreover, it is not only a legitimate way in which to traverse Bookland but also, as Mr. Blyton enables us to see, a very entertaining way. Local colour is an important factor in the sort of writings here enumerated. It might be argued indeed that a love of the shires gives us the best key to an understanding of the national genius. Such a book as this does but apply to literature the test of local patriotism as expounded in, say, The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Critics might do worse than adopt categories which would enable us to leave the lecture-room behind while we took an open-air jaunt. In fact they came near doing this when they classified certain of our poets as The Lake School.
Borrow did something of the same kind for Wild Wales. The itinerary of that hefty pedestrian is almost entirely dictated by his interest in the poets of the Principality. He is happiest when, standing by some pile of litchened stones, he can recite verses from the poet of whose home they once formed a part. His narrative forms a running commentary on the bards through whose former haunts he is passing. He counted himself specially fortunate if he could meet with descendants of the famous dead or encounter in some wayside inn, as he sometimes did. -drover or cobbler or farmer who could cap quotation with quotation from the works of the local hero.
The ground Borrow covered was restricted compared with the realm in which the author of English Cavalcade moves. But what his account lost in variety it gained in intimacy. His story is that of a personal experience which has the character of a pilgrimage. More than that: for the greater part of the way he used his own stout legs to carry him over the hills. Thus he was enabled to get to close quarters with his subject and to linger, where he chose to do so, long enough to collect unrecorded local 'legend.
In days when it has become the fashion for descriptive journalists intent on Seeing Britain to take us on a scamper covering the length and breadth of the land this would he accounted a slow method unworthy of the age of express trains travelling at over sixty miles an hour and motor coaches which whirl us 'through a county at a pace which makes detailed observation impossible. Mr. Blyton's style (small blame to him seeing how much ground he must get over in 311 pages) reflects these altered conditions. We rejoice in the bird's-eye view he gives us but we miss the leisurely pedestrianism which was able to enjoy chats by the wayside with the actual folk of the countryside.
Unfortunately our author has missed one advantage which his comprehensiveness might have given him. A concluding section of his book treating generally of the relations -between our national genius and its climatic and topographical setting would have been a valuable addition. It would have been interesting to note in such a chapter the effect of foreign travel on writers of our race. The difference between Wordsworth and - say- Shelly or Byron is surely due in part to  difference of environment. But such discussions we may concede, might have robbed the book of that discursive character which is one of its charms. In these pages we are, and are meant to be literally-minded sightseers, not philosophers.
There is need of a volume of this kind. Borrow, if I may refer to him once more, concludes an account of a conversation he had with a miller in this way, " 'What a difference,' said I to my wife after we had departed, 'between a Welshman and an Englishman of the lower class.What would a Suffolk miller's swain have said if I had repeated to him verses out of Beowulf or even Chaucer, and had asked him about the residence of Skelton?'". None of us will have difficulty in answering that question and our answer will emphasise the purpose that may be served by so brightly written and informative a study of the relations between the men and shires of Britain.
 I have emboldened the only comment in this long review of Sheppard's artwork and as can be seen, Blyton also did some of the illustrations. I have reproduced these for completeness on my Visual Rants blog along with another review which doesn't mention the illustrations at all beyond "There are many satisfactory woodcuts" .

The New Zealand Herald 17 April 1937 inserted one image from the book in its review column with no actual review beyond the following text:

There are other reviews, (for example Illustrated London News, Saturday, April 24 1937 p.706) but none mention Sheppard's illustrations just Blyton's omissions in his text.










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