'Davies? Oh, he was a sort of natural, wasn't he - like Clare?' James Reeves's Introduction to his Penguin anthology of Georgian poetry puts this absentminded question into the mouth of an unidentified intellectual of recent times. It refers to the author of the present book, who is also the author of the once-famous Autobiography of a Super-Tramp and of some six hundred poems. Young Emma is a sequel of sorts to the Autobiography, but it is a startlingly different performance. It will restore Davies, for a season, to the prominence from which he has fallen since his death in 1940, though there are others besides Reeves who have remembered him, and Old Mortality Larkin has removed the lichen from his grave with an ample display in the Oxford Book of 20th-century Verse. This posthumous fame, however, may prove to be of a kind Davies would not have welcomed. He was a strange person, and one whose interest in publicity blew hot and cold. This book is indeed the work of a natural, if by that we may mean someone who took to reading and writing as a bird to the wing, and who was a bit of a simpleton. In the supportive Introduction which he wrote in 1907 for The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp George Bernard Shaw calls him an 'innocent'. Davies - the wisest fool ever to escape from a dosshouse? The second of the autobiographies will cause some people to think of him as a holy fool rather than a wise one, while others will be quick to dispense with both adjectives.
LRB 20 November 1980 | PDF Download