Thursday, 13 October 2011

A.E. Coppard

Ah, sir, wisdom was ever deluding me, for I’m not more than half done - like a poor potato. First, of course, there’s the things you don’t know; then there’s the things you do know but can’t understand; then there’s the things you do understand but which don’t matter. Saving your presence, sir, there’s a heap of understanding to be done before you’re anything but a fool.
(from Simple Simon by A.E. Coppard)

This is from a short story collection, Black Dog by A.E. Coppard (1878 -1957) first published in 1923 then issued in the pucca ‘Travellers’ Library’format put out by Jonathan Cape in 1926, reprinted in 1926, 28, 29, 51, 57. My copy looks like it came out of a box in the back of a warehouse. Nice 7“ x 5“ cloth that can slip into the pocket of your coat, print beautifully struck. No.2 in the series. I also have Adam and Eve and Pinch Me in the same format, also republished several times. Penguin brought out a selection in 1972, Dusky Ruth and Other Stories from his various collections. It has a short introductions by Doris Lessing who is a big fan. By the bye is Doris Lessing the worst writer in English ever to have won the Nobel Prize?

The Penguin selection mostly stays clear of the mystical, magical, fabulous stories which are a distinct element in his work. In these times we don’t Adam and Eve it. In that title story Adam and Eve and Pinch Me a man travels in his astral body through his house and thinks that he does it in his corporeal form. There’s a wonderful flowing exalted sense conveyed by the writing and at the same time the stress of the man who tries to communicate with the others who are in a different plane but whether that plane is this sublunar one is not quite clear.

There was Bond (the gardener) tinkering about with some plants a dozen yards in front of him. Suddenly his three children came round from the other side of the house, the youngest boy leading them, carrying in his hand a small sword which was made, not of steel, but of some more brightly shining material; indeed it seemed at one moment to be of gold, and then again of flame, transmuting everything in its neighbourhood into the likeness of flame, the hair of the little girl Eve, a part of Adam’s tunic; and the fingers of the boy Gabriel as he held the sword were like pale tongues of fire.

These volumes are what I call ‘barrowed’ treasure. Never having heard of him I could only find them there. Due a revival.

PS: Adam and Eve and Pinch Me is available to download from Internet Archive A&E and Pinch Me with some extra stories compared to British Edition.

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