Introduction by A. St. John Adcock

Shortly after Hodgson’s death in 1918, his widow arranged for the realization of one of his dreams: publication of a book of his poetry.  In 1920, Selwyn & Blount published The Calling of the Sea, a short collection of 16 of Hodgson’s poems about the sea.  The edition was prefaced with an introduction by WHH’s close friend, Arthur St. John Adcock.

Adcock was an English novelist and poet who also served as the editor of The Bookman which was a magazine from publisher Hodder & Stoughton.  Although primarily a public relations tool, The Bookman also included reviews and illustrations.  Adcock would accept several items from Hodgson during their friendship and we owe several anecdotes about Hodgson to Adcock’s writings.

A year later, in 1921, Selwyn & Blount would also publish WHH’s The Voice of the Ocean which is Hodgson’s longest poem about the sea.  I have suspicions that Selwyn & Blount were paid by Mrs. Hodgson to publish these books making it a vanity press item.  At the time of his death, Hodgson had also assembled three more collections of poetry which remained unpublished.  My belief is that Mrs. Hodgson did not have the funds to publish these as well.

Thankfully, those three volumes were found by Sam Moskowitz and, after purchasing the Moskowitz collection, later published by Jane Frank in her book, The Lost Poetry of William Hope Hodgson (2005).

The Calling of the Sea and The Voice of the Ocean were reprinted in 1977 (Poems of the Sea) by Ferret Fantasy.  They combined them into one edition but omitted Adcock’s introduction which is a shame.  Perhaps there were copyright issues with Adcock’s introduction as he has only died in 1930.

In any case, Adcock’s introduction is an affectionate memoir of his dear friend and provides one of the few glimpses we have of Hodgson from an outside source.  It is very moving and worthy of reading.

We thank the ever helpful Phillip Ellis for providing the transcript of this introduction.  Ellis is doing breakthrough work in the study of Hodgson’s poetry and has just written an extension review of these works for the first issue of SARGASSO.

“Introduction [to The Calling of the Sea]” / Arthur St. John Adcock.

I first met Hope Hodgson about eleven years ago. At that date, his three best novels had been written; two of them, “The Boats of the Glen Carrig” and “The House on the Borderland,” had been published, and the third, “The Ghost Pirates,” was in the press. In those three stories he showed himself a writer of quite exceptional imaginative gifts, a master of the weird, the eerie, the terrible, whose strange and grim imaginings were not unworthy of comparison with the bizarre creations of Poe. He had already given himself so entirely and enthusiastically to a literary career that the talk of our first meeting was wholly of books and of his hopes as an author. He aimed high and, taking his art very seriously, had a frank, unaffected confidence in his powers which was partly the splendid arrogance of youth and partly the heritage of experiences, for he had tested and proved them.

There was something curiously attractive in his breezy, forceful, eager personality; his dark eyes were wonderfully alert and alive; he was wonderfully and restlessly alive and alert in all his mind and body. He was emphatic and unrestrained in his talk, but would take the sting out of an extravagant denunciation of some inartistic popular author, or of some pestilent critic, and the egotism out of some headlong confession of his own belief in himself with the pleasantest boyish laugh that brushed it all aside as the mere spray and froth of a passing thought. His dark, handsome features were extraordinarily expressive; they betrayed his emotions as readily as his lips gave away whatever happened to rise in his mind. Always he had the courage of his opinions and no false modesty; it never seemed to occur to him to practise politic subterfuges; and it was this absolute candour and naturalness that compelled you to like him and before long strengthened your liking round the world into a friendly affection.

Only once, and then casually, he mentioned to me that he had been a sailor, but, though there was nothing in his manner or trim, sturdy figure that suggested the seafarer, one might have guessed as much from his books and from the fact that the ablest of them were all of sailors and the sea. He was the son of an Essex clergyman, and left home to serve for eight years aboard ship, roughing it at the ends of the earth in all manner of picturesque places and voyaging three times round the world. His record as a sailor includes the story of a daring plunge overboard and the saving of a life at sea, for which he received the Royal Humane Society’s Medal; and much of the rest of his recollections of those eight years have gone to make the characters and incidents and scenery of his stories.

One novel of his, “The Night Land,” which appeared in 1912, turns altogether aside from the sea and might almost seem to have presaged, in some dim fashion, the coming of the Great War. He ranked it as his highest achievement and owned he was disappointed that it was not generally regarded as such. The story is told in quaint, archaic language; it is by turns grim, idyllic and touched with supernatural horror; it unfolds a romance of the far future when, in the last days of the world, the powers of evil are grown so assertive, so almost all-conquering that the civilised remnant of the human race seeks refuge in an enormous and impregnable pyramid, building their city tier above tier within it, while all around this Last Redoubt stretches immeasurably the Night Land peopled with primeval and loathsome material monsters and dreadful immaterial things of the spirit world banded together to destroy the soul of mankind. It is a strikingly original piece of work, giving full scope to Hope Hodgson’s sombre imaginative power and his peculiar flair for the weirdly horrible and the hauntingly mysterious. But it does not grip and hold one as do those three earlier novels that, for all their uncanniness, wear an air of everyday realism and never lose touch with the normal elements of actual earthly life.

He introduced some of his verse into the last book of short stories, “Captain Gault,” which came out a few months before his death; but most of what he wrote in this kind is here published for the first time. And in his poems, as in his prose, it is the mystery, the strength, the cruelty, the grimness and sadness of the sea that most potently appeal to him. He visions it as a House of Storms, a Hall of Thunders; calm at times, but with such a calm as one sees

“When some fierce beast veils anger in his breast,”

or raging and heaving and roaring tumultuously as though through its tortured waves

“Some frightful Thing climbed growling from cold depths.”

For him the voices of the sea are the sighing or calling of its multitudinous dead, and there are lines in which he hints that one day he, too, will be called down to them; but that was not the death that he was to die.

When the war came, he and his wife had for some while been living in the South of France, but he could not remain there in safety, with the folk at home arming for battle, and, though he was then near forty, he returned to England at once and obtained a commission, in 1915, in the 171st Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. He put aside all literary work and threw himself heart and soul into his new duties. With characteristic simple frankness, he said his only fear was lest he should feel any shrinking when his time came—a fear that nobody who knew him could ever had for him. In October, 1917, he went to France with his battery, and was soon in the thick of the fighting. Early in April, 1918, he and a brother officer with a new N.C.O.’s successfully stemmed the rush of an overwhelming number of the enemy who had broken through their line right up to the guns; they fought a gallantly stubborn rear-guard action, under a hail of rifle and machine-gun fire, for three miles across country. A week or two later, on the 17th April, 1918, he was killed in action, whilst acting as observation officer.

It is hard to think of him as dead, he was so vigorously and intensely alive. That vigour and intensity of life pulses and burns in everything he has written; and I think he will still be living in, at least, those three of his novels when we who knew and loved him are passed from remembrance. In the world of letters he had only half fulfilled his promise, but in the larger world of men he left no promise unfulfilled and has an abiding place for ever among the heroic company that the seventeenth-century seaman Thomas James commemorated, when he wrote:

“We that survive perchance may end our days

In some employment meriting no praise,

And in a dunghill rot, when no man names

The memory of us but to our shames.

They have outlived this fear, and their brave ends

Will ever be an honour to their friends.”

A. St. John Adcock


1 Comment

Filed under Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson

One response to “Introduction by A. St. John Adcock

  1. phillipaellis1968

    Thanks for posting this, Sam! It would be of possible interest to go through the Trove database, one day, and assess the items by Hodgson that have appeared in Australia. I think, from memory, that i sent a list to you and S. T. Joshi for the bibliography.

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