Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Today I have the decidedly pleasant duty of introducing you to a new friend … and a very old one.
The new friend is Nigel Jones—writer, journalist, BBC personality, historian, independent scholar, and a dozen other things as well. His many books include The War Walk: A Journey along the Western Front (1983); Hitler's Heralds: the story of the Freikorps 1918-1923 (1987); Through a Glass Darkly (1990) a biography of writer and playwright Patrick Hamilton; Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London, from St. Martin's Press, NY (2012); and 1914: A Path of Honour which is to appear in 2013 from Head of Zeus publishing. (And you can see all these things on Amazon.com. Do a search for Nigel Jones, or Nigel H. Jones, and you'll find them easily.)
He lives in Lewes, which is a town with a great deal of history near Brighton on England's southern coast, where he continues his writing and additional ventures. Among many other things, he leads tours of World War One battlefields for Historical Trips Ltd. (historicaltrips.com/).
He's also a really nice guy.
Oh, I ought to mention one other thing. He's also written Rupert Brooke, Life, Death and Myth, which is considered among the best biographies ever done about Brooke.
Which brings us to our old friend.
Who was Rupert Brooke (1887 –1915)?
Well, Brooke was one of the most admired poets of pre-World War I Britain, as well as (in the words of W.B. Yeats) "the handsomest young man in England." He also knew almost everyone who was anyone in British society. His friends ranged from Winston Churchill to Virginia Woolf, while his romantic liaisons included famed divas of stage and screen…and obscure school chums.
Today, he is known almost exclusively for the sentimental and intensely patriotic poems he wrote just before his own early death in the Great War. He is considered one of the British War Poets of World War I, that is, those (mostly) young men who got swept up in the romantic nationalism of the time and wrote poetry glorifying the great international crusade against the Beastly Hun…and then, mostly, died in the trenches or spent their rest of their lives recovering from the experience.
In fact, his "war poet" status has hurt his reputation for ages. After the 1918, writing poetry that glorified armed conflict seemed a bit ghastly. Quite a lot of critics came to reject him as a brainless bourgeois, a pretty boy of mediocre talent, who was simply too stupid to see that war isn't glorious, and people get killed in it. He himself died of fever in 1915, while he was on the way to Turkey and the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign.
In more recent years, however, people have been able to see a little ways past his war poet status…which was based, really, on only one poem, "The Soldier," which reads as follows:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
I submit, by the way, that this poem doesn’t really glorify war. It expresses a love of England, yes. But not of war.
It was only later, after he was dead, that his friends and his enemies alike decided he was a warrior bard.
But, there's still more to Brooke. He was also a fantastically talented travel writer. In 1913, he toured the United States, Canada, and the South Seas and left his impressions of them in a series of witty and insightful essays that were later collected and published in book form as Letters From America.
Simply put, the letters are wonderful. They're not necessarily an accurate depiction of the places he visited in the two, brief years before his early death (though they are sometimes right on target). But, accurate or not, they are a fascinating portrait of the mind of the intellectual of the age. In Brooke's thoughts we learn much of what transpired in the heads of everyone from Virginia Woolf to Winston Churchill.
Besides, they are brilliantly written. And the point of belle lettres is not to convey information, but rather to be beautiful.
As you know, B&B has just launched the The Lost Classics line. Our intent to find and republish great books and other works which, for some bizarre reason, have been allowed to drop from view.
What better book to start the series than Brooke's Letters from America?
And what better man to do a new foreward to the work than Nigel Jones?
I'm not quite sure how we managed to convince Mr. Jones to do a foreward for us. I suspect we caught him in a weak moment, perhaps late at night, or after a pleasant day in the sun, when he was in a too generous mood, and a request from a very new and very small American e-book publisher would seem whimsical rather than ridiculous.
But, whatever his motives, he agreed. And we woke up one morning to find in our email a fabulous little essay from Mr. Nigel Jones on Brooke, his life, and his Letters.
In a word, Wow.
Or, in three words, Far Freaking Out.
Thus, B&B is happy to announce that our newest e-book is Letters From America (Annotated), by Rupert Brooke, with a new foreward by Nigel Jones."
You can see it here:
When you get a chance, please give it a glance.
So, that's what's new with Belfort and Bastion. We've got a new author—Nigel Jones— who is nothing less than world-famous. And we've got a new book, a Lost Classic, from a poet and writer who has been too long forgotten …or, worse, remembered for the wrong things.
And there's more coming, so stay tuned.
Oh, and one last note, when you get a copy of our version of Letters, read the final chapter, "An Unusual Young Man," which recounts his responses to the beginning of World War I, in the short months before his death.
Then tell us…
Was this a war poet? Or a poet who found himself in the midst of war?
Monday, December 17, 2012
Belfort and Bastion's got something new headed your way. Very new. And yet… old at the same time.
We're going to be introducing a new line of e-books which we call "lost classics." These are great works which have, for some reason, dropped out of sight…or worse, stopped being read at all.
What sorts of books are both great and lost? You'd be amazed. You've heard of William Ernest Henley's "Invictus"…the poem that plays such an important role in the movie and book of the same name. It is the one that includes the compelling lines "I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul."
But have you ever read anything else he wrote? Like his strange and beautiful Song of Speed? We'll wager that you haven't. Yet, "Song" is a fabulous work, dated but weirdly modern, and should be explored by any scholar of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Or you've doubtless heard of Thomas Babington Macaulay, particularly if you are Indian (in which case you won't like him, but you will have heard of him). He was, of course, a leading member of the British Raj, and he did everything he could to supplant Indian languages (which he considered inferior) with English. He's thus hardly a man to win the hearts and minds of modern readers. Yet, at one time, his Lays of Ancient Rome was considered one of the greatest poems in the English language.
Or there are a thousand other writers, thinkers, journalists, and intellectuals whose works have been allowed to drop from sight (in the case of Macaulay, maybe justifiably) and whose absence is to be deeply regretted. Some of the Lost Classics are very, very good. And even at their worst, they provide a window into the past—its values, its thoughts, its beliefs.
And so our Lost Classics list. We will find such books, annotate them as extensively as we can, provide a new foreward, and generally make them accessible to today's audience.
Our first Lost Classic?
That's for next time. But don't worry. We'll let you know shortly.