DEWITHON WEEK 5: The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies

A Brief Summation of Chapters 29-34 – From ‘A Day’s Companion’ to ‘A House to Let’

“I am now giving my experiences honestly and truthfully, and thought for thought, if not word for word, as they happened.”

STWales Readathon 2019 has ended. Here I summarize the final six chapters of our official Dewithon 19 book: The Autobiography of a Super-tramp by the Welsh poet and writer W.H. Davies.

In last week’s overview we left Davies in a reflective mood, walking the outskirts of London, “sometimes making sixpence, and always less than a shilling a day”, with which he must purchase bed, food and “occasionally a couple of dozen laces.” He increasingly finds his ambulatory existence monotonous and longs to succeed as a writer.

We begin the first of several short chapters with ‘A Day’s Companion’ (Chapter XXIX) and Davies in full anecdotal flow, relating the tale of the old man and the blackberries, before moving on to Chapter XXX (‘The Fortune’) and a story of fellow tramp, James Macquire, who cunningly tricks the landlord of a beer-house into subsidising him generous sums of money before disappearing without trace.

In Chapter XXXI (‘Some Ways of Making a Living’) he considers the various methods a wanderer might employ to earn sufficient money to pay for bed and board – he refers to this as “a beggar’s profession” and relates the story of Long John, a man he meets in Oxford, and his bid to make a shilling from an old army officer. However, in Chapter XXXII (‘At Last’), his tone becomes far more despondent as he describes himself as at his “wits’ end to procure food and shelter.” He is “heartily sick of this wandering from town to town” and returns once more to London and the Farmhouse after five months on the road.

No one man in a common lodging house is supposed to be regarded with any special favour. The common kitchen is his library, his dining room and his parlour…

Once settled, Davies collects together his writings and begins to prepare work “for the press”. On receiving his money (the interest on his late grandmother’s endowment) in the first week of January, he is shown much kindness by a printer who places his MS “in the hands of a good reader”, a gentleman “put to considerable trouble being baffled and interested in turns.” He describes both printer and reader as being “at great pains and patience to make the work better than it was” – which one assumes means they edit his work ready for publication. He receives his first printed copy in early March.

As a result of his printer sending thirty copies of this poetry collection to “various papers,” two “slim reviews” follow. It is disappointing, and his disillusionment leads to bouts of drinking and thoughts of destroying his work – “the whole two hundred and odd copies,” which are locked in his room. Thankfully, the difficulties involved in achieving this prevent him from impulsively doing so. He therefore continues to “distribute the books here and there, sending them to successful people”, several of whom send him “the price of the book”.

Interest begins to grow in Davies’s work. A well-known Irish playwright comes to his assistance, notices appear in prominent publications, interviews follow, which ultimately lead to fame. He describes it as “like a dream”. In his “most conceited moments [he has] not expected such an amount of praise”.

After such jubilation at finally succeeding as a writer, Davies writes a rather glum final chapter (‘A House to Let’) about “ill luck” not allowing him to “escape without another scratch.” He relates his legal woes over renting a large villa overlooking the River Severn. He concludes with stern advice: “Never live in a house next door to your landlady or landlord”.

Davies is thirty-five years of age when his chronicle ends. In these final chapters we see him looking back on his extraordinary life and shaking his head at his younger self. Although prone to the occasional hubristic pronouncement, he has a depreciating sense of humour and frequently mocks his youthful complacency and arrogance.

Lengthy but immensely entertaining anecdotes are a feature of this closing section, but he makes clear he has paid a heavy price for his ‘freedom’. Latterly, feelings of despair and worthlessness almost lead to his ruin, but he never gives up, and eventually accomplishes his dream of becoming a respected writer.

The Autobiography of a Super-tramp is now regarded as a classic.

No person seemed inclined to start me on the road to fame, but as soon as I had made an audacious step or two, I was taken up, passed quickly on from stage to stage, and given free rides farther than I expected.”

Please share your thoughts on chapters 29-34 of The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp.



This is my eighth choice for The Classics Club.

Categories: Reading Wales

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23 replies

  1. The pressures of trying to get by, to get enough money for food and shelter as was covered more in XXXI, sounds truly awful and exhausting. I do like that the end result, triumph over despair and struggle, is a positive, uplifting and successful one.
    Very well covered! x

    • Thank you so much, Caz. I think once Davies lost his foot in that horrible accident, much of the youthful adventure went out of his wanderings. He was no longer cut out for tramping (especially in the UK) and it was a relief when he finally succeeded in making it as a writer. It’s been quite a journey but I found his book enlightening, and as you say, “uplifting”. 😊

  2. The Dewithon’s been great Paula,thanks for organising it! You’ve definitely inspired me to read Davies 🙂

  3. I really felt for him when he found what appeared to be the perfect house, moved relatives in as well as himself only to discover he had the landlady from hell. It’s been a fascinating book, Paula which I would never have picked up were it not for Dewithon – thank you. I’m still intending to write my own review – eventually. That will be another book crossed off the Classics Club list too. Hope all is going well 🤗

    • I hadn’t realised it was on your Classics Club list, Sandra. Me too! I’ll be delighted to read and link back to your Super-tramp review whenever it appears. There’s no rush at all – I’m merely glad you took part and found it a worthwhile read.

      D is having a good week. The fourth cycle of chemo begins next Wednesday. It’s hard going but thankfully the tumour appears to be shrinking. Thank you so much for asking. 🤗

      • Ha – well it wasn’t on my list initially but we are allowed to tweak our lists so I added it! 😉

        That’s such good news re D; I’m so pleased for you both. Hopefully the next cycle will see further improvements 🙂

      • I don’t blame you. I’ve done a tad of sneaky tweaking, too! Well, why not? 😉

  4. The last quote you’ve shared is one that I copied into my files too. That’s something I could easily relate to, his struggle with finding an audience for his work and the sense of futility combined with a sense of must-continue-on-regardless. And I appreciate the idea that a single supporter could make a huge difference. I remember hearing Vincent Lam interviewed on CBC about the importance of having had Margaret Atwood read and blurb his collection of linked stories and what a funadmentally important step that has towards his having a career as a writer. One person really can make a difference! You did a great job with the readathon. I’m very curious what book you will choose for next year!

    • Having MA endorse one’s book must be tantamount to the Gods of Olympus descending on publication day to show their support!

      Thank you so much, Marcie for all your support and contributions to Dewithon 19. I’ve really enjoyed our discussions. I’m wondering if next year I should ask for suggestions and put the title to a vote. It’s a little unfair if I keep foisting my choice on readers. What do you think?

      • What a difficult choice. Because I assume that you are hosting the event to share your love of Welsh literature with people who already know and appreciate it but that you are also hoping to draw attention to its writers, who might not either be well-known to readers or might not be well-known as Welsh writers even if the books are well-known. And being a member of the latter – mostly ignorant – group, I really don’t have the experience to make an informed suggestion, so I am quite content to sit back and read something you have chosen. For instance, I might have suggested something very obvious, like the Green Valley book, but now I have learned that it’s Welshness is debated! However, it’s also easy for me to say that I’m happy to simply run with whatever you recommend, knowing that I have a terrific library system to access, so I can probably participate regardless of your choice, and maybe that’s not true for everyone. Hosting is h-a-r-d! *laughs*

      • Many thanks for your comments, Marcie. It’s good to receive differing viewpoints. I will definitely bear this all in mind before making any kind of decision.

  5. He really is tenacious and it’s so interesting to read how he nearly gave up in despair. That strategy of sending copies to influential people worked for him in the end but mainly because he had the talent in the first place. To be ‘taken up’ is a wonderful thing for an unknown with no chance of asking friends for a hand up. Wonder what he would have done in the age of the internet. I suspect he would still have been a one off.

    • He was certainly a “one off” and no mistake! 🤣

      I wonder if ‘tramping’ would be very different these days? We live in a world so unlike his own – yet homelessness seems to be a bigger problem than ever.

  6. It would be different yes but reading his book made me feel a little differently towards a person I talk to in our town who begs discretely. He is the only one so he is noticed! In the past we have had conversations about what could be ‘done’ but lately more honest talks in which he says he values his freedom too. If you think of W H you can understand it. He doesn’t move around much but lives in the woods and can keep dry and warm even in winter. He prefers it to a hostel. Having travelled for a year busking around Europe I know how wonderful it can be to wake up to hear the birds singing and no cars. I have also known tramps in Cardiff who just wanted to drop out and they put up with the hardships that come with it. I know that’s not true for most people who are homeless but then all the stories are individual.

    • You’ve had a fair few adventures yourself, Maria. Did you go busking with friends or on your own? What sort of music did you play? Sorry, I’m bombarding you with questions!

      I should think some of these hostels for the homeless are quite dicey places. I can understand the chap you know preferring to live in the woods. A few years back there was an elderly gentleman doing the same thing in a small woodland in Chester. A couple of times kids burned his makeshift shelter down (thankfully when he was out) but there were many locals who looked out for him, too. A lady I know would take him a full roast dinner with all the trimmings on Christmas Day. He was quite a well known character and lived there for years (until he died of old age). You’re right, though, there are all kinds of reasons why people live rough – some by choice and others due to circumstances.

      • I was with my boyfriend of the time, who was French. It was much easier camping in the wild in France and Spain (we also went to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg). We just followed the weather. In more densely populated countries it was harder to find a spot to camp. I played the violin and he juggled and sometimes I did too but really you needed the music to make it work and he only played the tambourine! In Spain we worked with a German couple and did a fire show. That was good money. The Spanish audiences were great. I am talking years ago. Hard work: fond memories. I liked being free.

      • Nice to hear about your local ‘gentleman’ too.

  7. Suggestions are fine for broader reading but I was pleased with your choice this year, Paula, and I think if you have something in mind you can feel free to share it.


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  4. DEWITHON WEEK 5: The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies – cherishthelady

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