Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Remarkable numbers and revised opinions

In spite of the quietude on the blog front, work has been continuing in the archive and on the Gurney research front, with my endeavouring to get some thoughts down on paper ahead of PhD submission at the end of the year. I thought I would share some thoughts and facts from today's visit to the archive, which are just a few of the interesting things that occupy my mind as I go from day to day in this undertaking.

I have long wanted to try to put a figure on the number of poems written by Gurney, not least looking forward to the OUP edition. As I am going through finalising the catalogue, I am in a position to start counting, having drawn together the chronology of the poetry manuscripts, working out which manuscripts might be drafts of other poems etc. Today I have totted up the single 1925 poetry manuscripts: a total of 288 poems. This is overshadowed by the quantity written in 1926 - the equivalent of one for every day of the year, 365. Add to this the notebooks from the period, The Book of Five Makings and Best Poems - a further 116 poems - and the total comes to an extraordinary 769 poems from these two years alone. It is a remarkable body of work, some of which is very fine.

Today I was also rehousing the post-1926 correspondence. As I went, I was re-reading some of the later letters. One of the anecdotal stories told of Gurney is that when the proofs of the Music and Letters symposium were shown to Gurney late in 1937, prior to their publication in January 1938, Gurney left them unopened, unable to open them in his illness, and saying that the Symposium had come 'too late'. The correspondence presents a less melancholic state of mind than the tragic case that has often been projected. Yes, Gurney is fifteen years into his incarceration, and is ill at the time (the proofs were despatched by Marion Scott to Gurney on 27 November 1937). He is finding it difficult to write (although there are no extant writings beyond 1927), but he is still reading avidly (he reads the two volume Everyman edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson in the days around the arrival of the proofs) and in his letters projects a less sorry figure than one has been lead to believe.

Boswell was one of the books read during 1937, but the one name that recurs in most of Gurney's letters from this year is A.E. Housman: he is Gurney's constant companion, from Spring of that year until his death on Boxing Day of that year, at the age of 47.