A Brief Summation of Chapters 22-28 – From ‘The Ark’ to ‘On Tramp Again’
“As I advanced to the country, mile after mile, the sounds of commerce dying low, and the human race becoming more rare, I lost for the time being the vision of my future, being filled with the peace of present objects.”
Week four of the inaugural Wales Readathon has almost ended. Here I summarize Chapters XXII to XXVIII of our official Dewithon 19 book: The Autobiography of a Super-tramp by the Welsh poet and writer W.H. Davies.
After experiencing a life-changing accident in Canada, which prevents him from seeking further adventure, Davies returns to London where he finds a hostel housed in a “fine large block of red buildings” that is furnished with “two large cases of books” Here he remains for two years, and we re-join him in Chapter XXII (‘The Ark’), having had little success with his writing career but glad to be living in place where conditions “could not have been bettered by a person of such small means”.
He now makes the unfortunate decision to move to a cheaper dwelling place in the borough of Southwark, so that he might send a “couple of shillings a week” to “one who would be thankful”. He finds the food there is cheap but “not fit for a human being” and has “nothing at all to say” in favour of this new accommodation. He dislikes the officers in charge, whom he describes as “hypocrites” and, after four months applies for a pedlar’s certificate intending to return to life on the road.
Following protracted and frustrating dealings with the Surgical Aid Society over obtaining a new artificial limb – his old one now “creaking” and threatening “at every step to break down” – he finally departs with a stock of laces, pins, needles and buttons, intending to “hawk the country from one end to the other”.
“I walked and idled, standing on culverts and watching the water burst from the darkness into light; listening to the birds; or looking at a distant spire that was high enough, and no more, to show that a quiet town was lying there under a thousand trees.”
In Chapter XXIII (‘Gridling’) he leaves London with roughly nine shillings in his pocket, reaching St Albans on the first night. He continues to walk for three or four days, sleeping in the open-air, before arriving in the town of Northampton, where hopes to do business. After finding a quiet lodging house he discovers the parcel containing his wares is damp and the contents “entirely unfit for sale”. He is compelled to survive for two days on his critically depleted funds before heading to Birmingham with only sixpence remaining. On his journey there he meets a fellow tramp who takes him in hand and attempts to recruit him as a fellow gridler – one who earns a living by song – but after a relatively successful day, which provides funds for a comfortable lodging house, Davies concludes that “such business [is] not in [his] line.”
He travels to Warwick in Chapter XXIV (‘On the Downright’), receiving survival tips from those he meets on his way, before arriving penniless in Stratford-on-Avon in the company of a “downrighter”. This “enchanted place” rekindles his writing ambition but he is vexed to think that he is “no nearer [his] object”. He has walked for three months but has been unable to concentrate his thoughts “on any noble theme” because of a daily necessity to procure the price of a bed plus “two or three coppers extra for food.” It is winter and he dreams of “a small room with a cosy fire”, filled with books. This chapter leaves him in a low state of mind tramping home for Christmas so that he might draw the few pounds due to him.
Chapter XXV (‘The Farmhouse’) sees Davies return to London and begin frequenting his old haunts. An acquaintance introduces him to the Farmhouse, a place “full of quaint characters” (many of whom he describes in detail) and he becomes friendly with a jovial chap known Cronje – who has been in Australia for many years and is full of anecdotes and tall stories about his time there. Here he remains, “respected” by his peers and treated with civility.
Chapter XXVI (‘Rain and Poverty’) is concerned mainly with describing the life of a tramp: differences between the homeless and those who live in “common lodging houses” and are “well satisfied with a place to sleep and enough food to keep body and soul together.” However, in Chapter XXVII (‘False Hopes’), his attention returns to his literary aspirations. It is now he begins to send his work to known writers, asking for their opinion. The Manager of the Farmhouse takes an interest in him and persuades Davies to submit his work to a publisher. Nothing comes of his best efforts, but he gains in confidence and determines to make sacrifices to reach his goal. With great sadness, he goes back to life on the road.
He has no “courage to beg or sell” but still finds ways to exist. In Chapter XXVIII (‘On Tramp Again’) he travels alone, “in spite of the civilities of other tramps” who desire company, “so as to allow no strange voice to disturb [his] dreams.” He moves from “town to town, from shire to shire”, never begging “unless forced to the last extremity”. We complete week four as summer turns to autumn and he finds himself in severely reduced circumstances, making for London in order to prepare his manuscript.
We have seen in these chapters a far more circumspect and brooding Davies than has previously been the case. He was content for many years to idly wander from place to place with little consideration for the future, but he now senses the passing of time and realises he has made no discernible progress towards achieving his desire to write for a living. Maturity and disability have combined to change his perspective on life.
“The poor man, who has his daily duties to perform, has his quiet evenings at home, with friends to lend him books, and being known in the locality, a library from which to borrow them, but what privileges has the wanderer?”
Please share your thoughts on chapters 22-28 of The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp.
This is my eighth choice for The Classics Club.
Categories: Reading Wales