Lot 166
Sold for £ 3,600 (US$ 5,058) inc. premium

Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("Eric A Blair"), to Dennis Collings ("Dear Dennis"), opening their correspondence by remarking that he hasn't yet "anything of great interest to report yet about the Lower Classes" and is, instead, writing to describe a ghost he has seen in Walberswick cemetery ("...I want to get it on paper before I forget the details...") which he illustrates with a groundplan of the church and graveyard ("...it was a man's figure, small & stooping, & dressed in lightish brown; I should have said a workman. I had the impression that it glanced towards me in passing, but I made out nothing of the features. At the moment of its passing I thought nothing, but a few seconds later it struck me that the figure had made no noise, & I followed it out into the churchyard..."); he devotes the rest of the letter to preparations he is making for hop-picking ("...I have been up in town since the beginning of the month. I have made arrangements to go hop-picking, but we shan't start till the beginning of September..."), to news of his professional prospects as a writer ("...I've been busy working. I met recently one of the editors of a new paper that is to start coming out in October, & I hope I shall be able to get some work from them - not enough to live on, of course, but enough to help...") and to news of the tramps he met when last on the road ("....Of the three friends I had before, one is believed to have been run over & killed one has taken to drink & vanished, one is doing time in Wandsworth. I met a man today who was, till 6 weeks ago, a goldsmith. Then he poisoned his right forefinger, & had to have part of the top joint removed; that means he will be on the road for life. It is appalling what small accidents can ruin a man who works with his hands. Talking of hands, they say hop-picking disables your hands for weeks after-however, I'll describe that to you when I've done it..."), he ends with a dig at the established church ("...Have you ever looked into the window of one of those Bible Society shops? I did today & saw huge notices 'The cheapest Roman Catholic Bible 5/6d. The cheapest Protestant Bible 1/-', 'The Douay version not stocked here' etc. etc. Long may they fight, I say; so long as that spirit is in the land we are safe from the R. C.'s - this shop, by the way, was just outside St Paul's. If you are ever near St Paul's & feel in a gloomy mood, go in & have a look at the statue of the first Protestant bishop of India, which will give you a good laugh..."), 2 pages, 4to, "At IB Oakwood Rd Golders Green N.W", [16 August 1931]



    Dennis Collings (1905-2002) and Eleanor Jaques (1906-1962) were two of Orwell's closest friends during the formative, although surprisingly scantily-documented time (for which these letters form a principal witnesses) when he was staying with his parents at Southwold after his return from Burma; this being the period which he published his first book and adopted the name 'George Orwell'. Dennis Collings was the son of the Blair family doctor and had lived in Mozambique from 1924 to 1927. In the years covered by these letters to him, was reading anthropology at Cambridge. Orwell later described him as "an anthropologist & very gifted in various strange ways - for instance he can do things like forging a medieval sword so that you can't tell it from a real one" (The Complete Works of George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison, 1986-98, Volume 10, p.482). Eleanor Jaques and her family had emigrated from Canada to Southwold in 1921 and were next-door neighbours of the Blair family at Stradbroke Road. Although she and Orwell were very close for a time, she was to marry Collings in 1934 and that year the couple moved to Singapore, where he took up the post of Assistant Curator at the Raffles Museum, causing Orwell to complain to Brenda Salkeld that August: "I have practically no friends here now, because now that Dennis and Eleanor are married and Dennis has gone to Singapore, it has deprived me of two friends at a single stroke. Everything is going badly" (Complete Works, Volume 10, p.347).

    Collings himself was later to recall: "When I married Eleanor it didn't cause any problem between Eric and me, none whatsoever. Because I don't think he wanted to marry anybody, really, and certainly not someone like Eleanor, because she had her own ideas and she'd stick to them, and if she realized she was wrong she'd say yes, she was wrong, but she wouldn't be browbeaten into pretending to accept an idea she didn't approve of. In a way Eric was an intellectual bully; that's not a criticism of him, it's just the way he was. He was very sweet on Eleanor, and they got on very well, but Eleanor realized he wasn't the marrying kind" (Stephen Wadhams, Remembering Orwell, 1984, pp.38).

    These letters are published in the Complete Works, Volume 10, and were for a time on deposit at the Orwell Archive, University College, London, many bearing neat pencil annotations recording their date, initialled by the Keeper, Ian Angus; some with the Archive's accession stamp.

    This Letter:

    GEORGE ORWELL SEES A GHOST, TALKS ABOUT TRAMPS, AND ATTACKS THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND, while preparing to go hop-picking (see later letters). Collings himself recalled this letter and his friend's experience in Walberswick churchyard when interviewed by the BBC for Orwell Remembered for the Arena television programme. The interviewer, Nigel Williams, had asked "Was he a humorous man?" Collings replied: "No, no, he was not humorous. He took things rather seriously. And he was very factual you know. And of course he had that rather unpleasant time when he looked after a batty boy in Walberswick, who really was, poor child, he was incapable, there was something wrong with his brain. He had to try and teach him something. He did it in order to get a bit of money. And that affected him very much. The sight of this poor child, incapable of improvement in any way. And that was when he saw the ghost in Walberswick churchyard, which I think he's written about. He was sitting in the ruins of Walberswick church, you know the old part, and he was sitting down there, I think, making notes for something that had come into his mind, and he suddenly saw a man walk past him, giving no heed to him whatsoever. This was about three in the afternoon. Now he was not given to spiritualism in any form, he rather despised it, I think. But nevertheless he saw that ghost all right" (Orwell Remembered, edited by Audrey Coppard and Bernard Crick, 1984, p.79).

Saleroom notices

  • Autograph envelope included.
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