Autograph Letter Signed ('Dunsany') from Lord Dunsany [Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron Dunsany] to his cousin Muriel Emily Summerson, criticising in strong terms a biography of her brother Lt-Col. John Hawksley by Lady Verney.

Lord Dunsany [Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron Dunsany] (1878-1957), Anglo-Irish fantasy writer [Lt-Col. John Plunkett Verney Hawksley (1877-1916), DSO, Royal Field Artillery]
Publication details: 
On letterhead of Ebrington Barracks, Londonderry. 23 May 1917.
SKU: 13592

Twenty-three pages (23pp.), 12mo., on six bifoliums. Very good, on lightly-aged paper. Written in snatches, with the last four pages dated 'May 23. 1917'. A well-written and entertaining letter, highly characteristic of its author in its mixture of wit and strong emotion. The subject is a 1917 privately-printed memoir of Dunsany's cousin John Hawksley by Lady Margaret Maria Verney, titled 'Lieut.-Colonel John P. V. Hawksley, D.S.O., R.F.A., 1877-1916: A Memoir compiled from his Journals and Letters'. Dunsany begins: 'My dear Muriel | I have just received Lady Verneys book which she herself sent me in type. I have only read a little of it and have not yet shown it to Beatrice [Dunsany's wife (1880-1970), daughter of the Earl of Jersey]. I am going to give you my impression of it at once and will tell you what Beatrice says later, so that you will have two distinct opinions. I may say that Beatrice is a remarkably good judge. | I don't suppose that my relations know anything more of my claim to be a judge of writing than that I have "written some clever books" and perhaps "one or two curtain-raisers"; but even that is something and I will give you my opinion for what it is worth.' The next section of the letter is headed 'Later', and begins: 'In the end Beatrice read some of the book before I was able to go on with this letter. Well, she notices what was obvious to me, and will be to everybody, the marvellously disjointed irrelevance of a lot of it. I will give a few examples. 1. "... a great deal of golf, in which John was anxious to improve himself." | But it is no use to give examples, for anything that there is any record of having happened either to John or John's dog or anybody that John knew all goes in. There is no trace of the exercise of selection or of any guiding principle. [...] Those who knew John recognise him, though dimly, now & then; as in such incidents as his saying "When my time comes" in a very dignified voice, and the fishermen repeating it to one another from boat to boat; [...] But there is nothing in Lady Verney's writing to show the public what manner of man he was, or even to make them care. That last bit is pretty severe, I know, but you cannot show anybody anything unless you interest them, even if you have something to show.' He is leaving his cousin 'to invent what polite excuses you can', his opinion being that the book is 'unworthy of John's life and death. [...] When you had a brass engraved to his memory [in St Mary Magdalene Church, Coatham Mundeville] you did not, I suppose, employ a boot-maker but a worker on brass. If you put up a statue to him you would employ a sculptor. Lady Verney has not the art of writing. There is much in John's character and career that an artist would bring out and illuminate. There is material in his diaries for a great artist. Was not John worthy of one? If he was not, then the next most fitting memorial to him is the silence in which he rests, and the memory of the things he did in the minds of those who saw them. | John's diaries are immensely interesting, I am reading them with the very greatest pleasure. They might stand the test of being shown to the world, unrevised and uncorrected, were it not that they are led up to by three chapters that triviality has made dull.' He goes into specific criticism of Lady Verney's work, one instance being: 'And then again - John while at Dunsany gets a telegram handed in at Newbridge, where he was quartered, congratulating him in the name of the Army on being made a captain. I remember composing the answer for John myself, who of course knew that one of his friends was trying to chaff him: but it all goes solemnly into the book. | Things like this detract from a fine career.' Of Lady Verney's phrase 'Sir R - Wingate, with a brilliant staff arrived from the Sudan', Dunsany writes: 'Bad as all this is those words "a brilliant staff" stood out as especially surprizing. What did they mean? Were these officers intellectually brilliant, or was it their buttons and cap badges that shone more brilliantly than those of other soldiers?' At this point comes a surprising twist: 'And then as I wondered I suddenly saw through this maze of words John's own quite way. John who never criticized anybody, who would have been the last to join in any envious clamour against the comparative luxury of staff-officers, had quietly referred to the "brilliant staff", his only criticism, to be appreciated by those that enjoy dry humour, to be meaningless to the rest - including Lady Verney'. Dunsany concludes that the memoir is 'a book for the family circle only. Privately circulated amongst his nearest relations it will be read with interest by those that knew John: publicly printed nobody will care to go through the dullness of those first three chapters to read about a man placed before them there without any particular character or bent or guiding principle. I consider that any book about John should be written by someone as eminent in literature as he was in the army. I think that is only common fairness. And as a friend of John and as an occasional reader of books I think that that has not been done. | Yr. aff. cousin | Dunsany | P.S. I go back to barracks tomorrow. X.'