BETJEMAN (JOHN)

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Lot 155
BETJEMAN (JOHN)

Sold for £ 1,200 (US$ 1,651) inc. premium
BETJEMAN (JOHN)
Autograph manuscript of the opening stanza of his celebrated poem 'Middlesex', drafted when attending a meeting of the London Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, with a flourished title (evidently starting out as "Elaine" but altered after writing the initial two letters into "Middlesex", with a Rex-Whistleresque suburban villa and sunshade sketched nearby), comprising a single stanza of nine lines, beginning: "Gaily into Ruislip Gardens/ Runs the Piccadilly train/ With a thousand 'ta's & 'pardon's/ Daintily alights Elaine..."; with 2 typed letters signed and one autograph letter signed (with small section torn out for the stamp) to M.F. Foxell, the poem one page, written on the back of an envelope addressed to the Rev M.F. Foxell, MVO, of St James's Church Garlickhythe, postmarked 27 April 1951, minor dust-staining, narrow 8vo, London Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, 1 May 1951

Footnotes

  • THE GERM OF ONE OF BETJEMAN'S BEST-KNOWN POEMS, DOODLED ON THE BACK OF AN ENVELOPE AT A CHURCH COMMITTEE MEETING: 'Middlesex' has been described by Betjeman's fellow poet Hugo Williams as a "key poem" which "reveals his homesickness for the secure social position and innocent aspirations of the class he grew out of" (introduction to Poet to Poet: John Betjeman, 2006, quoted in The Guardian, 25 February 2006). Given the change, mid pen-stroke, to the title, it seems likely that the present manuscript represents Betjeman's first thoughts, the seed from which the full poem was to grow. In all events, it is clearly an early version. The final poem was to run to a further three nine-line stanzas. Our "Piccadilly train" was to be replaced by "red electric train"; "Frowns a frown of concentration/ Hurries down the concrete station" becomes "Hurries down the concrete station/ With a frown of concentration"; "few remaining hedges" becomes "few surviving hedges"; and "Keep alive that green illusion - rural Middlesex again" becomes the (arguably less effective) "Keep alive our lost Elysium - rural Middlesex again".

    The poem has been docketed in pencil by Foxell: "John Betjeman at Committee Meeting/ 1 May 1951". The Rev Maurice Frederick Foxell (1888-1981) served from 1939 to 1964 as Rector of the well-known Wren City church, St James Garlickhythe ('Wren's Lantern'), and in addition held several positions in the Royal Household, being Sub-Dean of HM Chapels Royal, Sub-Almoner, Deputy Clerk of the Closet and Domestic Chaplain. Included in the lot are three letters written to him by Betjeman before, on, and after his retirement (1964 and 1966), addressing him successively as "Very Reverend, dear and Holy, Dean Peculiar", "Reverend dear, holy and soon-to-be-ex. Dean Peculiar" and "Oh dear & holy ex dean peculiar". Foxell was to recall that "I accepted a place on the London Advisory Committee dealing mainly with a aesthetic side of applications for faculties. It was there I first met John Betjeman whom I occasionally met in subsequent years, an odd but likeable person with whom I had a number of interests in common"; his first attendance at the Committee being on 1 May 1951, when Betjeman's poem was written (photographs of Foxell's memoir and diary kindly provided by his grandson).
BETJEMAN (JOHN)
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