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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsBooks And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Surrey Labourer
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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Surrey Labourer Post by :RichRick Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1095

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Surrey Labourer

(_1 Apr. '09_)

It is a great pleasure to see that Mr. George Bourne's "Memoirs of a Surrey Labourer" (Duckworth) has, after two years, reached the distinction of a cheap edition at half a crown. I shall be surprised if this book does not continue to sell for about a hundred years. And yet, also, I am surprised that a cheap edition should have come so soon. The "Memoirs" were very well received on their original publication in 1907; some of the reviews were indeed remarkable in the frankness with which they accepted the work as a masterpiece of portraiture and of sociological observation. But the book had no boom such as Mr. John Lane recently contrived for another very good and not dissimilar book, Mr. Stephen Reynolds's "A Poor Man's House." Mr. Stephen Reynolds was more chattered about by literary London in two months than Mr. George Bourne has been in the eight years which have passed since he published his first book about Frederick Bettesworth, the Surrey labourer in question. Mr. Bourne will owe his popularity in 2009 to the intrinsic excellence of his work, but he owes his popularity in 1909 to the dogged and talkative enthusiasm of a few experts in the press and in the world, and of his publishers. There have been a handful of persons who were determined to make this exceedingly fine book sell, or perish themselves in the attempt; and it has sold. But not with the help of mandarins. It is not in the least the kind of book to catch the roving eye of a mandarin. It is too proud, too austere, too true, and too tonically cruel to appeal to mandarins. It abounds not at all in quotable passages. Its subtitle is: "A Record of the Last Year of Frederick Bettesworth." The mandarins who happened to see it no doubt turned to seek the death scene at the close, with thoughts of how quotably Ian Maclaren would have described the death of the old labourer, worn out by honest and ill-paid toil, surrounded by his beloved fields, and so forth and so forth. And Mr. George Bourne's description of his hero's death would no doubt put them right off. I give it in full: "July 25 (Thursday).--Bettesworth died this evening at six o'clock." Oh, Colonel Newcome, sugared tears, golden gates, glimmering panes, passings, pilots, harbour bars--had Mr. George Bourne never heard of you?

(_1 Apr '09_)

I should like to assume that all enlightened and curious readers have already perused this book and its forerunner, "The Bettesworth Book" (Lamley and Co.), of which a cheap edition is soon to be had. But my irritating mania for stopping facts in the street and gazing at them makes it impossible for me to assume any such thing. I am perfectly certain that to about 70 per cent. of you the name of George Bourne means naught. I therefore need not apologize for offering the information that these books are books. They set forth the psychology and the everything else of the backbone, foundation, and original stock of the English race. They deal with England. Naturally, the sacred name of England will call up in your mind visions of the Carlton Club, Blenheim, Regent Street, Tubes, Selfridge's, theatre stalls, the crowd at Lord's, and the brilliant writers of the _New Age_. And these phenomena are a part of England; but I tell you that they are all only the froth on the surface of Bettesworth the labourer. If you regard this as a cryptic saying, read the two books, and you will see light.

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