ORWELL (GEORGE)
Lot 167
ORWELL (GEORGE)
Sold for £7,800 (US$ 12,519) inc. premium

Lot Details
GEORGE ORWELL
ORWELL (GEORGE)
Autograph letter signed ("Eric A Blair"), to Dennis Collings ("Dear Dennis"), written in "pencil & bad writing", comprising a narrative of "an interesting 2 days camping in Trafalgar Square" spent by Orwell when living as a down-and-out ("...It has, at this time of year, a floating population of 200 or so...You take my tip & never sleep in Trafalgar Square...once in 5 or 10 minutes the police came round waking those who were asleep & making anyone who was sitting on the ground stand up. Every ten minutes it would be, 'Look out, mates, 'ere comes the flat tie (policemen). Take up thy bed & walk' etc...After midnight the cold was glacial. Perhaps a dozen people managed to sleep...At 4 am someone managed to get hold of a big pile of newspaper posters & brought them along to use as blankets. 'Ere y'are, mate tuck in the fucking eiderdown. Don't we look like fucking parsons in these 'ere surplices? 'Ere, I got "Dramatic appeal from the Premier" round my neck. That ought to warm yer up, oughtn't it?'..."); going on to give a graphic account of the behaviour of the police and the women of the street ("...About 8 pm last night a woman came up crying bitterly. It appeared that she was a tart & someone had poked her & then cleared off without paying the fee, which was 6d. It appeared that of the dozen or so women among the 200 In the square, half were prostitutes; but they were the prostitutes of the unemployed, & usually earn so little that they have to spend the night in the Square. 6d. is the usual fee, but in the small hours when it was bitter cold they were doing it for a cigarette. The prostitutes live on terms of perfect amity with the other down & out women. In Stewart's coffee shop this morning, however, an old girl who had slept in Covent Garden was denouncing 2 tarts, who had earned enough to get a few hours in bed & then a good breakfast. Each time they ordered another cup of tea she was yelling, 'There's another fuck! That's for that fucking negro you let on for a tanner'..."); and describing the horrors of the cellar of St Martin in the Fields ("...an appalling squalid cellar, as hot as hell & the air a sort of vapour of piss, sweat & cheese..."), and finally promising to write again "when I have further news & a more comfortable place to write in", adding with in a final dramatic flourish: "If you don't hear within a fortnight it probably will mean I've been pinched for begging, as the mates I'm going with are hardened 'tappers' & not above petty theft", 5 pages, in pencil, on sheets with irregular left-hand edges (evidently extracted from a notebook or cut down, but of good quality laid paper), 8vo, [a lodging house in Southward Bridge Road], "Thursday night" [27 August 1931]

Footnotes

  • "YOU TAKE MY TIP AND NEVER SLEEP IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE": GEORGE ORWELL DOWN AND OUT IN LONDON DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION. This famous description of sleeping rough in Trafalgar Square was reused for the Trafalgar Square scene in A Clergyman's Daughter. Although this letter was written in "pencil & bad writing" from a Southward lodging house ("...a 7d kip - & looks it, I may say - in Southwark, & I believe the only one at the price in London..."), it is very nearly as immaculately written as Orwell's usual letters, with their elegant, fluid and precise handwriting: evidence, perhaps, that he was at pains to retain his poise as a dispassionate and clear-eyed observer and anthropologist, one who is reporting to a colleague from the field.

    Collings was to recollect this letter in his 1984 BBC interview: "He was a down-to-earth chap in many ways. And he felt he couldn't write about the down-and-outs unless he was one himself. So he became a down-and-out, to all intents and purposes. The famous time of sleeping on newspaper in Trafalgar Square, where people did all that kind of thing. He said how uncomfortable it was, he'd never do it again. Policemen kept coming along wanting to know who he was and moving him on to the next bench, you know, and you try to go to sleep and then somebody else would come along and move him. I don't know how he got his old clothes, but he got them, and he was on the tramp. He put up at the Spike at Blythburgh... And he thought of coming on to Southwold... And then he thought, well no, I couldn't possibly do it, if my father were to see me it really would kill him" (Orwell Remembered, p.78).

Saleroom notices

  • Autograph envelope included.
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