Thursday, 5 February 2015

A ‘Difference of Mental Texture’: the Correspondence of Jack Clemo and A. L. Rowse

This article was written for The Cornish Banner and published January 2015. The Banner has kindly given permission for it to appear on my blog. All letters and diaries can be found in the University of Exeter's Special Collections Library. Thanks to Special Collections for permission to use the Clemo material and to the RCM for permission to use the Rowse material. 

                                                               (Paintings of Clemo and Rowse, by Lionel Miskin)

Two of the most indigestible writers of the twentieth century came from the St Austell area. A. L. Rowse was born at Tregonissey in 1903 and was the elder of the two. Jack Clemo was born during the Great War, in 1916, just a few miles west, at Goonamarris. As well as sharing a geography, Clemo and Rowse were both working class men, and both were confident of their genius. They also both produced autobiographies in the 1940s, Rowse in 1942 and Clemo in 1949. It was a productive decade for Cornish autobiographical writing, with J. C. Trewin and Anne Treneer adding to the list of regional life writing classics, with their respective Up from the Lizard (1948) and Schoolhouse in the Wind (1944). Rowse, Trewin and Treneer all engaged with Clemo in one way or another. Trewin had published Clemo’s work in his West Country Magazine, as well as writing about the young man in a series of self-conscious letters to and from his friend H. J. Willmott in the 1950 London-Bodmin. Anne Treneer, meanwhile, offered one of the more inappropriate, if predictable, reviews of Clemo’s poetry in the Cornish Review, admiring ‘the immense force of feeling’, but regretting that there was not more about ‘the singing of the larks’.[1]
      In spite of the similarities between Rowse and Clemo, they were in other ways worlds apart. Most glaring among their differences was the question of faith. Clemo’s faith was the core of his outlook, his optimism and hope, with Christ the grounding of all of his ambitions and expectations, whether romantic, literary or medical. Rowse, on the other hand, was an atheist. Clemo’s gonzo fundamentalism informed a quiet and nuanced stance on homosexuality [2] while A. L. Rowse was known to be gay. Clemo declared himself not only a poor academic, leaving school at the age of twelve due to illness (though officially at age thirteen due to bad results, poor attendance and the absence of any desire to continue), but he was also anti-academic and anti-intellectualism, a position explored in all of his non-fiction, most notably in The Invading Gospel. Rowse, on the other hand, was a proud and renowned academic by profession, a Doctor of Letters and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, as well as of the British Academy and Royal Society of Literature.
Reading Rowse’s diaries, one might not imagine Clemo had any impact on his life at all. He is scarcely mentioned. Nevertheless, when Clemo emerged onto the literary scene with a trilogy of remarkable works – the novel Wilding Graft, the autobiography Confession of a Rebel, and the collection of verse, The Clay Verge – the already established Rowse offered immediate support, writing on 31 March 1948.[3]

Dear Mr Clemo,

I thought of writing to you some months ago when I read a poem of yours that struck me very much. Since then, Mr Latham of the Macmillan Co. of New York has told me of your novel, which greatly impressed him, and wanted me to get in touch with you. He very much wants to know my impression of your novel – in case I may be able to help in putting it across over there. (I hope you don’t mind me putting it like that, for it is the book’s own remarkable quality that will carry it.)
      I have at last got hold of a copy and am enthralled by it. I am still in the midst of it, very much moved by it, especially by the character of Garth. That’s quite right, isn’t it? I am afraid I am a very unprofessional reader of novels and don’t think much of most contemporary ones. But I love this one. There are all sorts of things I long to ask you about it – if you can bear to have a meeting. Can you? I should very much like to meet you, if you are free one day this week. What about Saturday? Is that any good? I’d be delighted if you cared to ring up and fix it. The house is quite easy to find: five minutes walk along Porthpean Rd from the Duke of Cornwall. You may not want to come - which would make me sad, for I long to know about the book and you.
      Forgive the address: I don’t properly know your address.
      Yrs sincerely
      AL Rowse.[4]

That Rowse wanted Clemo to telephone him shows that he was unaware of the progression of Clemo’s disabilities – his continued deafness, weak heart and alarmingly failing sight being the most prominent at this time.
      The ‘Mr Latham’ of Rowse’s letter was Harold Latham, the Vice-President of the Macmillan publishing company. He wanted to publish Clemo’s Wilding Graft in the United States, though he did not like the title and wanted to change it to ‘Clays of Meledor’, a suggestion Clemo resisted. The importance of American interest to Clemo was enormous. He believed, to some extent, that America was his spiritual home, and in an unpublished poem he writes that if you, the reader, want to understand the roots of his story:

You must search the bleared West, its forensic night:
Prairies and headstocks, reeling streets.[5]

Clemo hoped and had faith in his transatlantic success. America was the root of his problems, he believed, and Providence might offer their remedy from the same source. Not long after Rowse’s first note, Clemo remarked in his diary: ‘I believe I’ll be like Browning more fully appreciated in the U.S. than in England.'[6]
      On 1 April, the day he received Rowse’s letter, Clemo recorded in his diary his surprise that the arch-atheist Rowse had enjoyed Wilding Graft: ‘I’ve had a letter from AL Rowse, more sympathetic than I expected’.[7] He replied that same day, ever punctual with his correspondence:

Dear Mr Rowse,

Many thanks for your appreciative letter regarding my novel Wilding Graft. I had feared that, if you did read the book you would be repelled by the “mystical religiosity” which has grieved some of its reviewers. But I think it’s obvious that I detest religious humbug as much as you do – I’m closer to Hardy and T.F. Powys than to conventional sectarian Christians, and in the character of Garth Joslin I’ve tried to suggest the only kind of faith I feel to be still valid. It’s an extreme, solitary vision, and I don’t suppose I’d have developed it had my education been normal. I finished my schooling at the age of 12 through an attack of blindness, and a few years later began to suffer deafness, which confirmed me in a ‘village hermit’ life of meditation similar to Powys’s. (The note in the current Bookman gives a general sketch of my life and temperament.) It is therefore impossible for me to make fresh contacts – I’m sorry to disappoint you, for I do appreciate your generosity and would gladly accept your invitation if I were still able to converse with anybody. This unrelieved loneliness is part of the price I’ve had to pay for my independence and for any originality that may exist in my work. All discussion of my writings with literary friends has to be done through correspondence. I’ve already supplied the MacMillan Co. – via my agents – with full biographical details for use in promoting the American edition of Wilding Graft, but I daresay your opinion of it would help them, as you are the only product of the clay district whose name carries any weight with the reading public. Anyway, I’m grateful for this personal message of appreciation.
Yours very sincerely,
Jack R. Clemo.[8]

Clemo was self-conscious about his disabilities. He had been practically deaf for well over a decade, and since 1947 his eyesight had been declining, with ever worsening spells during which his sight was so bad and the pain so great that he was ‘unable to read’, as he repeatedly noted in his diaries. Gradually, over the next few years, it would decline to a permanent white-blindness.
      It is notable in these letters that while Rowse praised Clemo for his writing, Clemo offered little commentary on Rowse’s work, though he was familiar with it, having read Rowse’s A Cornish Childhood twice already and owning a copy of Poems of a Decade. (The fact that Clemo owned a book in the early 1940s and kept it until his death shows that it was of some significance. Otherwise, it would have been sold on to make room for more important volumes.)
      Rowse replied enthusiastically again and with equal punctuality, on 2 April 1948, repeating his praise and elaborating on it:

I have been knocked sideways by [Wilding Graft]. I have been very much moved – the book has filled my mind these last few days. The intensity of it is the great reward you have for the isolation and loneliness in which you live. ... This novel is a wonderful one: well worthy to be a descendent of dear Hardy. More than that I could not say; for you may know that I worship him.

He emphasises the local history they shared, and repeats a query Sir Arthur Quiller Couch had offered years before, when Q had been sent one of Clemo’s juvenile novels at the end of 1939. Rowse here adds a little of his notorious relish:

You know so much more about the life of the people than I, are they really like that? You give a terrible portrait of them in the book … You must know pretty well what I have always, or for so long, felt about them: their hypocrisy, their narrowness and meanness …, their back-biting and ungenerosity, their love of doing some-one down… But are they really so appalling, do you think, as you see them? ... I know how disgustingly crude they can be – or rather must be: for I don’t allow these people to come within a 100 yards, I had almost said miles, of me.[9]

Clemo reads loneliness into Rowse’s criticism of ‘the people’, remarking in his diary: ‘I do feel sorry for him, crying out for understanding and fellowship … I’d expected Rowse to sneer at the book, yet he hails me as a fellow saint who will be stoned with him.'[10]
      In this long letter, Rowse offers a few factual corrections to Wilding Graft, including pointing out that the Truro monument to which Clemo refers is of Richard Lander, not of Henry Martyn. It was a mistake Clemo corrected in subsequent editions. Rowse also acknowledged having read Clemo’s provocative letters to the Cornish Guardian: ‘I remember your writing emotional-religious lrs to the paper years ago when I was a Labour candidate: they then seemed to me rather confused … and I couldn’t make head or tail of them.’
      Clemo’s swift response was again overwhelmingly about himself, and some of the natural antagonisms between Rowse and Clemo are suggested:

You owe so much to the schools, while I’ve struggled through without their help, and with a vision they would have tried to destroy … I was too slovenly to have the sorts of ambitions that could be frustrated, content with the primitive and childlike levels, the flashes of intuition of an untrained mind. You, on the other hand, seem always to have felt the itch to escape from all that, to be civilised and adult. This difference of mental texture explains much: it explains why I can depict the people as harshly as you do on paper without ever wishing to get away from them in real life.

Clemo writes of his latest book:

It’s an autobiography – as different from yours as it could possibly be, much more raw and elemental: no story of struggle for scholarships … but a record of spiritual and emotional upheavals which drove me out of Methodism (I was reared in strict Nonconformity and never lost my respect for the best type of Nonconformist, the Sam Jacobs type: even you admired him), into various forms of pantheism and at last to my present faith.[11]

Clemo is referring to Confession of a Rebel, which was published the following year. It is as prickly a work as Rowse’s A Cornish Childhood.
      This letter from Clemo, which largely continues in the vein of self-concern with some added criticism of Rowse, appears to have cooled the correspondence. Other than occasional cards apologizing for the lack of any reply, Rowse waited over three months before responding. He had, however, continued to support Clemo’s work, sending copies of the novel to his own contacts, like Howard Spring, and providing reviews. Indeed, it was after Rowse’s radio review of Wilding Graft that Helena Charles, the first leader of Mebyon Kernow, went out immediately and bought three copies; one for her, and two to give to friends. This would be the start of another interesting correspondence and relationship.
      After a shorter letter in July 1948, the correspondence with Rowse was discontinued until the following year, when, on 16 September 1949, Clemo sent Rowse an inscribed copy of Confession of a Rebel, again comparing their personalities:

I wonder which of us is the typical Cornish Celt? I fancy the answer must be ‘Neither,’ though you probably come nearer to it than I do. I’ve been pushed away from Cornish interests by abnormal circumstances … Your ‘Celtic’ elements are disciplined and disguised by French clarity, while mine are submerged under Teutonic dogmatisms.

It is fascinating and consistent to see Clemo defining his ‘nature’ as brutish and primitive, and also that he considers the influence of bloodlines to be so sophisticatedly schematic. In Confession of a Rebel, as well as in the 1951 essay ‘The Hocking Brothers’, Clemo wrote that his literary talent probably derived from the Hockings, who were distant cousins of Clemo. The familial relation, however, was very weak: Clemo’s father’s mother’s mother’s father was the Hockings’ father’s father. There was little shared ‘blood’, and none of it, of course, was from the literary siblings themselves, but rather from their ancestors. Clemo adds to his statement that he has ‘felt a spiritual force working against the natural tendencies and turning me into something quite different from what Nature meant me to be.'[12] This is a reference to the pivotal struggle Clemo perceived at this point between the ‘Natural fate’ into which all are born and the alternative divine predestination of the converted Christian.
      Three weeks later, Rowse replied, congratulating Clemo on the autobiography, which he declared ‘a success’:

You have said what you meant to say and in a way that comes straight through to the reader. It is a complete revelation of you, and that – whether sympathetic or not – is what an Autobiography should be.

Again, there is the gentle hint of antagonism agitating the waters in this letter, though it never fully surfaces. It is a long epistle, in which Rowse notes that Clemo’s published criticism of academics is ‘not worthy of you now’. But perhaps most attractive is Rowse’s defence of his old benefactor, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch. In Confession of a Rebel, Clemo had attacked the recently-deceased writer and academic a number of times, firstly dismissing Q’s fiction as ‘unreadable’, ‘dry historical romance’, and then claiming that he had returned The Art of Writing to the library ‘unread’, because ‘I recognized its chilly lecture-hall atmosphere as a threat to the spontaneity of my individual moods’.[13] The real cause of Clemo’s antipathy was that Q had not championed him the way he had championed Rowse. Clemo had ‘heard of his generosity to talented Cornish boys, his determination to give working-class youngsters of promise an equal opportunity of educational advance’,[14] and so in 1939 he had posted Q a copy of an over-drafted novel, ‘Private Snow’. In Confession, Clemo writes of Q’s ‘refusal’ to help, and of how Q had treated him ‘as a decadent who was best left to struggle alone’. This, Clemo concludes, ‘is disturbing proof of the limitations of the educational system [Q] represented.'[15] Rather than championing Clemo, we are told, Q ‘returned the manuscript with a short letter of criticism’, and he is further condemned for ‘not mentioning to anyone his personal opinion of me’.
      In fact, Q’s letter to Clemo has survived, and his account of it in Confession is unfair, the quotations manipulated and the generosity of Q’s response considerably reduced. Clemo had sent him a poor manuscript of a tired theme, and Q had considered it very carefully, offering more feedback than it possibly deserved. Rowse, of course, knew Q well, and Clemo’s account did not ring true. In his response to the criticism in Confession, Rowse began: ‘One can completely understand how deeply disappointed you were. And yet you must be just to him.’ Q had, writes Rowse, ‘the most beautifully developed and balanced character of any one I have ever known’. There follows a long tribute to Q’s excellent character, during which Rowse recommends to Clemo that he must ‘be kind to [Q] in your thoughts, as he was the kindest man who ever lived: not at all chilly and academic as you think.’ Moreover, Rowse explained, writers receive a great many manuscripts from budding authors and it was kind of Q to have replied at all, let alone with such consideration. ‘So again, be kind to the world of civilised culture, that is itself so much kinder. All the happiness of my life is bound up with Oxford; all the unhappiness with Cornwall.'[16]
      In his 13 October 1949 response, Clemo continued the discussion, concentrating on academia and schooling:

I can understand that, from your standpoint, my prejudice against the academic world must seem unworthy. Yet … I was originally excluded by my temperament, my genuine lack of that kind of ability. I was debarred from a secondary school education by the fact that I failed to pass the examination, so I could have achieved nothing in the scholastic sphere even had I not been physically handicapped.

This was intended as a reply to Rowse’s suggestion that Clemo was too hard on academics and academia, but it goes no further than to say that an academic life was not open to Clemo himself, or would not have suited him. It is an interesting response. Rowse’s problem had been that Clemo dismissed academia and intellectualism as such, as though it were one musty homogenous mass. That is, Rowse’s criticism was objective, suggesting that one can’t criticize all of academia, all academics and all institutions simply because one was not suited to it. It would be like making a moral case against people who eat cabbage just because one finds the taste of it repulsive or it gives them wind. Clemo’s sometimes solipsistic approach to logic and argument poses possibly the most serious barrier to the study of his prose. That is, he uses logic and appeals to logic and direct experience, while at the same time derogating logic, empiricism and the intellect when they do not suit his premise.
      In the same letter, Clemo once more compared his autobiography with Rowse’s:

I bought [A Cornish Childhood] just after it was published, as I’d begun jotting notes for my own autobiography and thought I might find in yours a few useful tips on this kind of writing. I did find much helpful stimulation in your book, though of course when I came to write my Confession I found I had to do it in my own way, which wasn’t much like yours.

Again, the unclarified antagonism. It is in this following phrase, too:  ‘I’ve often wondered why I take such a Henry Fordish view of history – but I suppose we all have a weakness for dismissing as “bunk” something which really isn’t.’ In the context of the letter, this seems like a dig at Rowse’s irreligiousness. Or in the passing comment, when Clemo describes how he was laid up ‘with an attack of eye trouble brought on by an accidental blow in the eye which I got while romping with one of my little girl friends: very characteristic. No life could be less “adult” – and therefore less like yours – than mine is.'[17]
      There appear to be no further letters from Rowse to Clemo, and it is quite possible that from this point on Rowse sent only brief cards in response to Clemo’s requests, when he responded at all.

In 1949, Clemo was appealing for money. He was concerned for his future, with no new novel forthcoming and being unfit for work, both deaf and very poorly sighted. Cecil Day Lewis suggested that Clemo should apply for a Royal Literary Fund grant, with A. L. Rowse a supporter of the petition. On the same day Clemo received this letter from Day Lewis (17 November 1949) he wrote to Rowse asking for help. Rowse agreed, but when in three weeks’ time the letter of support had not arrived, Clemo began to chase him up: ‘I should be glad if you could let me have your letter of recommendation to the Royal literary fund as soon as possible’.[18] He added that, on top of this letter of support for the RLF, if Rowse could write and send a further letter of recommendation for Clemo’s failing novel, The Shadowed Bed, that would also be a great help. Once more, Rowse agreed and acted, but ten days later he received yet another letter. This time, Clemo was asking Rowse to write on his behalf in support of his being given a Civil List Pension, because ‘my handicaps will prevent me from being a prolific writer’.[19] But a General Election was looming, and Rowse was too busy with it to help. He suggested Clemo write again when it was all over. Clement Attlee was re-elected for Labour on 23 February 1950, and soon after, the following arrived:

Dear A. L. R.,
Now that the Election is over I am wondering what steps are being taken about the Civil List Pension. I hope a start has been made, for it looks as if I shall need it pretty badly. My new novel has not been accepted yet, and the Literary Fund committee decided to pay me only half the £200 grant this year, so I’m just scraping along on £2 a week, which doesn’t give me enough comfort or security to tackle any work that demands prolonged effort.[20]

In May, Clemo wrote to Chatto & Windus what the publishers called ‘a rather pathetic letter’. He was asking them to chase Rowse for his letter of support. But Rowse was losing patience, seemingly fed up with the constant appeals for his help. He may have felt that he had offered Clemo a lot of support already – praise for Clemo’s writing, letters supporting financial appeals, reviews of his work, negotiations with American publishers, recommendations, and so on. But Clemo had offered nothing, not even a pleasant word on any aspect of Rowse’s work. There is no sense in Clemo’s diaries or other correspondence that he was even aware that it might have been polite to offer some sign of friendship, appreciation or camaraderie. Rowse was an opportunity, the means to an end. He had made the literary and academic contacts that Clemo desired.
      Often, Rowse wrote slim private commentaries in the margins of letters he received, usually critical of his correspondent. Against this one from Chatto & Windus he wrote only: ‘I did get him one grant'.[21]
While Clemo’s demands might seem impolite and even self-centred, his vulnerability should not be underestimated. Clemo’s health was in desperate decline and he was dependent upon his ageing mother for just about everything. It must have been terrifying. The initial literary success of Wilding Graft and the encouragement of Cecil Day Lewis had led him to believe that financially he and his mother would not need to worry about having to scrape by on her war widow’s pension and odd-jobbing anymore, but long term solvency depended on Clemo’s ability to continue writing – especially novels, which sold and paid better than poetry. However, Clemo would never write another original novel after Wilding Graft. No new plots revealed themselves and he could only tinker with those older works of the 1930s, a fact that caused him considerable anxiety. He needed help. His mother could not navigate the literary world, and nor could he, as he could hardly write a letter without her and could not hold a conversation without her writing out the words of any interlocutor into the palm of his hand. How was Clemo to perceive the nuances of conversation, the physicality of relationships, intonation and delivery, when he could not hear any speech or see a smiling face? He had entered into the world of publishers, agents, journalists and reviewers, a world dominated by old friendships, meetings and contacts, though Clemo himself was unable to forge friendships in the usual way and unable to participate in these meetings. He was deaf, blind, Cornish and working class. In the scramble for position, notice and preference in such a London-dominated industry, Clemo was at a practically insurmountable disadvantage. This is to say that while Clemo can come across as stiflingly needy in his correspondence, it is because he genuinely depended on the help of others. It is a testament to his tenacity and ambition, as well as to his literary ability, that Clemo succeeded at all. It is also testament to the quality of his literary friendships. Cecil Day Lewis was commendably sensitive and generous when dealing with Clemo during the publication of those first three books. Charles Causley, too, was definitively kind and his impact on Clemo’s career probably crucial. Theirs was a lifelong friendship.
      Rowse, on the other hand, though sympathetic to Clemo, was not a patient man. Certainly not as patient as Causley, their mutual friend. All references to Rowse later in Clemo’s life were faintly critical. In 1976, for example, Clemo wrote in a letter how Cornish literature had been ‘dominated by the academic sceptical tradition begun by Quiller-Couch and carried on into black atheism by A.L. Rowse.'[22] Two years later: ‘As a writer I have always felt lonely in Cornwall, having nothing in common with Q’s humanism or Rowse’s rationalism or Anne Treneer’s tolerant scepticism.'[23]
      Neither Rowse nor Clemo were straightforward men, and Clemo was probably unaware that Rowse continued to help in small ways – ways that did not put him out. For instance, Rowse contributed to a fund being raised to buy him a new typewriter at the end of the 1950s, a fund started by Charles Causley, who in his first letter to Clemo had connected these two St Austell men, writing: ‘I think the “Confession” – with A.L. Rowse’s autobiography – the two most important books to come out of the west of England ever.'[24] As well as Causley, Rowse and Clemo shared another contact, Lionel Miskin, the extraordinary artist who befriended many local literary men when he was living at Mevagissey. Miskin painted both of them, though the strange figure of Clemo in the cottage and clayscape seemed to work better, and Miskin made more than a dozen paintings and drawings of him. But aside from brief and uncommitted moments such as these, and the tribute Rowse paid Clemo on his death in 1994, it seems that once Rowse had turned his back, he barely thought again of Clemo.
      To me, their simultaneous proximity and distance invites a new way of placing poets and of writing the map. There might have been much common ground – splintered sexualities, ambivalent geographies, displaced identities, literary ambitions queerly nurtured in poor clayey soil, and so on. They even shared literary favourites, like D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. But some of this common ground had scarred them, made them incompatible.
      The relationship between Rowse and Clemo was short-lived and uncomfortable, but it is almost incredible that these two men should have come so close to friendship at all, considering the force of each man’s character. And it is doubly incredible that their complete interaction should be recorded as it has been. This is both the curse and the gift of studying Jack Clemo. There are, on the one hand, few recordings of him speaking, no spontaneous interviews or conversational anecdotes, and he will always be hidden behind the crafted word. But equally, his inability to converse means that practically every interaction he had was committed to paper, and this remarkable meeting between two of our most interesting and awkward writers has been preserved in all its seething, subtle curiosity.

[1] The Cornish Review, number 9, winter 1951.
[2] Sexuality was at the core of Clemo’s worldview. He was not especially homophobic, but his faithful ambitions and personal desires were markedly heterosexual, Christian marriage being an early goal and ideal. In later life, Clemo would remark that he did not like ‘gay exhibitionism’ (in the 1990 interview with Felicity Warner), and in 1981, after reading Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, Clemo noted that it was a ‘deeply moving novel’, but ‘overloaded with Lesbian propaganda’ (note the capital ‘L’). Clemo’s interview with Felicity Warner can be found in the University of Exeter’s Special Collections Library, reference EUL MS 68/PERS/1/4/4. The 1981 diary is EUL MS 68/PERS/2/44.
[3] The date of the letter is clearly 1948, a fact supported by the postal stamp as well as by cross-referencing with Clemo’s personal diaries. However, when Jack’s widow Ruth edited the archives, she crossed out 1948 and wrote 1947. It is not clear why, though it is one of many questionable and distracted editorial impositions she has made on the collection.
[4] The letters from Rowse to Clemo were kept in a box of ‘Letters from Literary Men’. They are in Exeter’s Special Collections, reference EUL MS 68/PERS/1/4/2.
[5] This is from an unpublished poem of Clemo’s from 1961, entitled ‘Inheritance’.
[6] Diary, 8 May 1948. EUL MS 68/PERS/2/11.
[7] Diary, 1 April 1948.
[8] EUL MS 113.3.
[9] ALR to JC, 2 April 1948. EUL MS 68/PERS/1/4/2.
[10] Diary, 3 April 1948.
[11] JC to ALR, 4 April 1948.
[12] JC to ALR, 16 September 1949. EUL MS 113.3.
[13] CoaR, 136.
[14] Ibid. 169-70.
[15] Ibid. 170-71.
[16] ALR to JC, 4 October 1949.
[17] JC to ALR. 13 October 1949.
[18] JC to ALR, 9 December 1949.
[19] JC to ALR, 19 December 1949.
[20] JC to ALR, 27 March 1950.
[21] Chatto to ALR, 2 May 1950.
[22] 22 October 1976.
[23] JC to Donald Rawe, 13 October 1978.
[24] Causley to Clemo, 19 October 1951.

Monday, 25 August 2014

What do Matt Groening and Jack Clemo have in common?

What do Matt Groening and Jack Clemo have in common?

At the beginning of 1994, the year of Jack Clemo’s death, the active but ailing poet received a surprise letter from Neustadt in Germany. It was from a man named Rainer Böhlke, who wrote to say that he was a great admirer of Clemo’s work and that he would very much like to help Jack with his writing. Böhlke said he was a lonely and wealthy man and that he would like to bequeath Clemo his ‘considerable fortune’. He did not want anything in return for the money, he said, except perhaps a couple of handwritten lines from the author and an autograph. Innocently, Jack replied at length to Böhlke, thanking him for his generous offer and explaining that he could not commit to any large sum of money at his age. He said such an amount would be too much of a responsibility and would only complicate affairs for him and his wife this late in life. He said that he and Ruth lived modestly and comfortably on their pensions, so that ‘I would have no personal use for a large bequest of money: I might even die before you do’.
      Today, an approach like Böhlke’s would make most of us suspect a scam. And we would be correct. Rainer Böhlke sent a great many such letters, including to musician Frank Zappa, novelist Amy Tan, Nobel-winning DNA discoverer James Watson and The Simpsons creator, Matt Groening. According to newspaper reports, Groening used the fraudulent approach and the character of Böhlke in his comic strip series, Life in Hell, while Tan incorporated the character into her ‘The Year of No Flood’, an unpublished novel she was working on in 1993.
      Böhlke can be looked up online, and with a little persistence you might find many writers and artists who were sent similar letters from Neustadt. Many saw through the scam immediately and either ignored the letters, engaged facetiously or responded creatively. Others fell for it and replied. To my knowledge, Jack Clemo is the only one to have naively and open-heartedly accepted the authenticity of the sender and then declined the bequest. One wonders what Böhlke thought when he read it: double the fool or double the saint?

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Writing Desk of Jack Clemo

The writing desk of Jack Clemo is a humble piece of furniture, less impressive than the desks of St Austell cohabitants Sir Arthur Quiller Couch and Daphne du Maurier. It is a small bureau with three simple drawers underneath. No room for clutter, no need for ornament. It is plain and cramped, as it had to be. Clemo did not have his own study, but sat squashed in the corner of the living room, writing while village children, evacuees and visitors drifted in and out. Jack would hand the children old drafts of manuscripts to draw on or to practise their homework. It was a rented four-roomed, two-bedroomed clay workers’ cottage, which housed not only Jack and his mother, but also her sister Bertha and usually two or three children through the 1940s and 50s. When they first moved in, during the First World War, the Clemos fetched their water from a pump down the road at Goonamarris, or from the spring when the pump ran dry. It was not until the 1930s that a tap was fitted to the outside of the garden wall, and not until 1968, when Jack was 52 and due to marry, that he and his mother thought about getting a toilet attached to the house.

It was at this desk that Clemo wrote Wilding Graft, his award-winning clayscape romance, as well as his striking autobiography, Confession of a Rebel, and the poetry for which he is now best remembered, including The Map of Clay, Cactus on Carmel, The Echoing Tip and Broad Autumn. His volatile emotional history all played out here, with the photographs of romantic attachments and lost loves propped up on its top, beneath the portraits of Browning and Powys. He would write his emotionally charged diaries here, as well as long, intense and argumentative religious love letters to potential partners, such as those sent to Eileen in 1949. Clemo’s correspondence was extensive and important to him, his only connection with the life outside of the villages. He was already deaf and unable to join in normal conversation, and by the time he was writing to Eileen, the view out of the window over the road, field and works, was blurring palely as his eyesight was beginning to fail. In later years, when he was blind, Clemo’s mother would sit beside him, much as Ruth sits beside him here in the photograph, writing out correspondence in capital letters into the palm of his hand.

It was also at this desk that Jack greeted the Beat poet Kenneth Rexroth, as well as Charles Causley, George MacBeth and Lionel Miskin, who painted Clemo several times in front of it, slouching lugubriously. Most people who visited Clemo recall their first impression of him, small, silent and hunched at his bureau.

The top photograph, taken by Paul Broadhurst for the Cornwall Courier, shows Ruth and Jack Clemo in 1980. You can see the modern electric fire covering the old coal and wood fireplace, for which Jack used to go out gathering smutties on the Slip as a young man. Over the fire is a 1979 painting, made by a friend of Jack’s foster-sister, Betty Penver, and over the desk to the right is a photograph of Billy Graham, whose missions had so impressed Clemo in the 1950s. On the top of the desk is a newspaper article with a headline about the BBC film recently written and directed by Norman Stone, dramatizing Clemo’s early life. It was made at the end of 1979 and shown on Good Friday, 1980. Just out of sight, behind Jack’s shoulder, is a miniature of the 1957 clay bust of Clemo that is now kept in the Royal Cornwall Museum.

The Clemos were splitting their years at this time between the cottage at Vinegar Point and the Peaty house at Weymouth, and Ruth had constructed a similar space and desk at which Clemo could work in their suburban seaside retreat. When they finally moved, in 1984, they left the little bureau behind, with a good deal of other unneeded furniture. For the past twelve years, the desk has been kept in the Jack Clemo Memorial Room at Trethosa Chapel, a lovingly constructed and maintained space that has disappeared with the chapel’s closure. Wheal Martyn Museum and Park at Carthew, near St Austell, have taken the bureau now, though years of being stored in the cold and damp mean it requires some sensitive conservation work. The second image above, taken by Matt Shepherd of the BBC, shows the bureau's current condition. The lid is tied shut because one hinge is missing while the other is damaged and weak. The left lid-support, which pulls out, has a pin working as a handle, and the damage to the top drawer is evident. There are similar details of wear and damage all around the piece, inside and out, and as this year marks the twentieth anniversary of Clemo’s death – on 25th July – we thought it would be a good idea to get it restored and out on permanent display. It has been estimated that £300 will do the job and we’re appealing for donations. Feel free to get in touch with me or with Wheal Martyn if you might like to contribute.

Clemo remains overlooked and undervalued, and the display of his writing space might be a good way for many new people to engage with him and his work. It is an evocative piece of literary and Cornish history and seems to reflect the poverty of his upbringing and the unusualness of his story. It could also be considered a neat symbol of that juxtaposition between the tininess of his worldly experience, the reduced landscape and his sensual enclosure, and the immense personal vision and talent with which he wrote.

Update: Following our brief media campaign, the £300 target has been reached and surpassed. Any further donations will go towards the accompanying bookcase, which is also in the photograph (top) and held by Wheal Martyn.

Top photograph courtesy of Paul Broadhurst and the Special Collections Library, University of Exeter. Bottom photograph courtesy of Matthew Shepherd/BBC Online.

Sunday, 18 May 2014


William Hogarth's Gin Lane

In 1781, Boswell and Johnson were in Devon, visiting their friend Joshua Reynolds. It was ‘a most agreeable day’ and many acquaintances were present, among them the Cornishman Edward Craggs-Eliot, who would become the first Baron Eliot of Port-Eliot three years later. Of the few details recounted of this meeting by Boswell in his Life of Johnson, the following caught my attention:

Mr. Eliot mentioned a curious liquor peculiar to his country, which the Cornish fishermen drink. They call it Mahogany; and it is made of two parts gin, and one part treacle, well beaten together. I begged to have some of it made, which was done with proper skill by Mr. Eliot. I thought it very good liquor.

That’s what we’re about here: Mahogany. It sounded curious so I thought I'd make my own. To mix the treacle effectively with the gin, at least one of the ingredients has to be warmed. Treacle would be more difficult to clean off, so I’m warming the gin instead. As it gently warms, I thought I might consider the drink's history.

In Cornwall, it is mentioned several times, including once in 1865 by Robert Hunt in his Popular Romances of the West of England, where it is mentioned in passing with other 'Peculiar Words and Phrases'. Fred Jago, who lived in Bodmin and wrote The Ancient Language and the Dialect of Cornwall in 1882, included Mahogany in his glossary, describing it simply as ‘Gin sweetened with treacle’. In both sources, Mahogany is placed in Cornwall.

A variation of the drink is mentioned in nineteenth century American literature too. Mark Twain, for example, in an 1863 article for The Golden Era passingly references gin and molasses as a sort of tonic, one of several brews the writer uses to cure his cold. Similarly, in the 1851 Moby Dick, a young sea-hand also suffering from a cold is given ‘a pitch-like potion of gin and molasses’ at The Spouter Inn, by the old man Jonah, ‘which he swore was a sovereign cure for all colds and catarrhs whatsoever, never mind of how long standing, or whether caught off the coast of Labrador, or on the weather side of an ice-island.’

Eliot did not mention it as a medicine – or, at least, Boswell did not mention Eliot mentioning it – though given the histories of the ingredients it might have cured almost anything one could pick up at sea.

The history of treacle seems to start with the Greek word theria, meaning ‘wild animals’. The word is present not only in the modern word treacle but also in zoology, the Theria being a subclass of mammals that includes all mammals that give birth to live young – so everything other than the monotremes/prototheria. From theria came the word theriac, a type of medicine used to counteract bites from these ‘wild animals’. In the early seventeenth century Edward Topsell, compiler of some fantastic bestiaries, suggested that the word came to be used as much for its inclusion of these wild animals in its list of ingredients as for its use counteracting their poison. In antiquity, the theriac developed out of its role as a curative for venomous bites and became almost a panacea, appropriate for treating ailments diverse as asthma and the plague.

Pliny refers to a complicated ‘Mithridatic’ recipe for theriac containing fifty-four ingredients. Galen’s brew went further, with more than seventy components, including viper flesh, opium and honey. Honey was used partly for its own healing properties, but also to make the medicine more palatable. Here we have the sweet element of the cure-all treacle, but the treacle we now know is a by-product of sugar rather than honey. The story of sugar in Europe started in India, where it was grown and from where it spread. Medieval Arab traders took it to Islamic countries and then European crusaders in the twelfth century brought it back with them and the Venetians in particular started developing and trading. The by-product of raw cane sugar is molasses, and the by-products of refining sugar are the various grades of treacle.

In the eighteenth century, when theriac had become discredited as a cure-all, it retained a shadow of its curative glory as a vague tonic, a sweet, syrupy salve. Johnson and Boswell were naturally aware of both meanings (though the only mention of treacle in Johnson's dictionary, I believe, is in a medicinal context, under the entry for ‘Salve’), but Boswell is using ‘treacle’ in its more common and modern form, as a by-product of sugar refinement.

Gin too had transformed into something more palatable, though its history was recent. It is said to be Dutch in origin, developed through the seventeenth century when it was sold as a medicine and introduced to England. Relaxed rules on household distilleries meant that homemade gin became cheap, readily available, copiously drunk and a bit of a problem. This was the ‘gin craze’ reflected in Hogarth’s 1751 engraving, Gin Lane. The craze led to a 1736 ‘Gin Act’, intended to make it prohibitively expensive to produce and so to buy. Samuel Johnson opposed the law, as did the poor, leading to the ‘gin riots’. The 1736 Act was repealed and replaced in 1751 with a more plausible version that led to gin production and drinking becoming respectable and the booze better quality. It was following this gentrification of gin (gintrification?) that brands such as Gordon’s began with their thrice-distilled method. Bombay Sapphire also claim that their recipe dates back to the period. It seems unlikely that all of the private stills disappeared, so probably the cheaper, murkier sugar-sweetened forms were available at the same time. The original fishermen’s Mahogany would likely have been made with the rougher stuff, and although Eliot’s gin of choice is not known, it would have been a finer, drier drink. (It would not have been a ‘Plymouth gin’, the first firm across the river being founded the following decade, in 1793.) For my own brew, I’ve followed the Boswell-Eliot model, using Gordon’s, though if I were to serve it in a bar I might insist on one of the new Cornish brands like Tarquin’s or Elemental. Two parts Gordon’s to one part Lyle’s Black Treacle.

The red treacle tin is a lovely design, with its iconic dead lion and swarming bees. It is meant to remind us of the lion Samson killed near the vineyards of Timnah. The lion came bowling up to Samson roaring, so Samson killed the lion and tore it to bits before going down into Timnah to speak to a woman. He went on to marry this woman, and on his way to the wedding came across the lion again, which now had bees nesting in the carcass. Naturally, Samson stuck his hand in and ate the dead lion honey, sharing it with his parents. Later, he would infuriate guests at a feast by turning the occasion into an unfairly impossible riddle and betting that the revelers would not get it. They did not, until they bullied Samson’s (unnamed) new wife to betray him. She did, a blood bath ensued and Samson left his first wife.

I’m unsure what to take from the metaphor. Lyle took: ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness’.

The drink is ready, and even the colour is medicinal, a bog-murk brown-black with jaundiced iodine viscosity. The smell is like molasses. On first sip, it is not as bad as expected. Sweet as tonic wine from the treacle but with a lingeringly sharp acid and juniper. I wonder how other styles of gin would improve it – the orange blossom, pine and cardamom of Tarquin’s, or the coriander and citrus of Elemental. 

It becomes less pleasurable the more one drinks. The longer aftertaste is of golden sugar, and while you might say the overall impression is ‘medicinal’, the sense I get is that I’m doing something rather bad to myself.

There was, incidentally, a footnote to the story of Boswell and Johnson and Mahogany, when in 1805 a piece of writing appeared entitled Dialogues of the Dead. Boz and Poz in The Shades. It was tacked onto the end of a critical work written by William Mudford about Samuel Johnson, though apparently it was not written by Mudford. Boz, of course, is Boswell, and Poz is Johnson. Both men are dead, in the play as in life, with Boswell having died from ‘Mahogany’, drinking himself to death, for which he is mocked. Boswell explains to Johnson that he had been introduced to the drink by ‘several of my friends, and I could not refuse them the pleasure they seemed to derive from seeing me drink it.’ When questioned further, he says:

Why, sir, I thought that as each ingredient was good in a separate state, they could not be bad in union. Gin, they told me, was at least wholesome, if not palatable; and what schoolboy, they asked, has not licked his lips over a roll and treacle?

As I persist, I wonder how I could have made the drink better. A drier gin? Or molasses? Maybe a different ratio? But I can’t imagine the proportions of treacle to gin ever being what I’d consider ‘right’, and now I’m looking at the last drop in the bottom of the flask with a little apprehension. I know I shall finish it, but following the Boswell story there’s a sense of mutuality, a sickly feeling that the Mahogany might finish me too.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Mining for Meaning

Some of the work I enjoy most in Exeter’s archives is this sort of excavation, finding the rougher forms of Jack Clemo’s polished poems. Occasionally there are four or five drafts, spanning thirty years or more, as Clemo returned to the crude ore of earlier work to dig out a shade – a theme, place or structure – to refine.

A good example might be ‘The Brownings at Vallombrosa’, a poem published in the 1971 collection The Echoing Tip but first drafted in 1946 as ‘Rebel Love’. The original poem was not about ‘The Brownings’ at all, but about the narrator (loosely, Clemo) and his loved one. The importance of the difference becomes clear when it is recalled that Clemo believed his personal life had some intimate parallel or connection with the lives and romance of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Without the reader knowing it, Clemo has laid the story of the Brownings over his own story, interweaving the two. He secretly draws the parallel tighter.

The Echoing Tip is rich in this sort of evolutionary material, and the following is a simpler example. The poem started out as ‘School of Clay’ in 1969, when it was printed in a local exhibition brochure for Kernow 70. Five years later it was revised into ‘The Harassed Preacher’ and then published in the 1975 Broad Autumn. To make comparison easier, I’ve placed the poems side by side:

School of Clay (May 1969)                            The Harassed Preacher (1974)

Now summer has come to the clay lands,           Now that summer has brimmed on the uplands
The dunes gleam white in the sun,                           White mine-crusts seed in the sun,
And over the slag and the outcast crag                And around each pit and its outcast grit
A tangle of green is spun.                                        A gabble of green is spun.
                                                                          Soon silenced by bomb and gun.

Bushes have burst into blossom,                          Bushes have bragged into blossom,
Flicked by the dancing sand;                                   Flicked by the teasing sand;
There are milk white brooks in the valley nooks   Milk-wan streams vein the valley’s dreams;
And larks in a lunar land.                                         Larks lilt where the tip-beams stand.
                                                                          Faith’s dream and song are banned.

Our forefathers dug in the field here,                    Our forefathers dug in the field here,
Built us a house of God,                                          Built us a preaching place,
So his truth might spread from the big clay bed    So that truth might spread from the ringing bed
Deep in the spirit’s sod.                                          Ruled by the Galilee base.
                                                                          Too distant now – no trace.

A hundred summers have ripened                        A hundred summers have panted
Around these village lanes                                       Along our zigzag lanes
Since that hungry gang of children sang                Since the first raw crowd of converts bowed
Inside our window panes.                                        Inside these window panes.
                                                                           But the analyst explains. . . .

The seats were clumsy benches;                           The seats were rough bare benches;
No piano struck the tunes;                                        No organ spun a tune;
The bare bleak room held a stuffy gloom               The squeaky hymns and unwashed limbs
Even in those boiling Junes.                                       Made a meagre mock of June.
                                                                            The new age mocks the boon.

But grains from the Holy Scriptures                       Grains from the towering scriptures
Were flicked by the winds of prayer;                         Were flicked by the winds of prayer:
In our sheltered nook these children took              In our grit-ringed nook those drab lives took
New shape in Christian air.                                        Fresh shape in Wesley’s air.
                                                                            Now shapeless atoms wear. . . .

Midsummer is the season                                      We toil in a fevered season;
When the clay shines white on the hill;                       Soul-crusts lie hard on the hill.
Our tools advance, but we catch the glance           Do our tools ring true? Don’t we signal through
Of that shining Potter still.                                          To a ruling Potter still?
                                                                            Our super-egos spill. . . .

                                                                            A plague on the heckling voices
                                                                                That would check my sermon’s flight!
                                                                            It’s eleven o’clock and here’s my flock –
                                                                                Five villagers, old and bright,
                                                                            Knowing their faith is right.

In the first instance, Clemo has written a ballad very much in the style of his good friend Charles Causley, who had been Best Man at his wedding only six months earlier. See, for example, Causley’s ‘Song of the Dying Gunner AA1’:

Oh ‘Cooks to the galley’ is sounded off
And the lads are down in the mess
But I lie done by the forrard gun
With a bullet in my breast.

Or even Causley’s ‘Homage to Jack Clemo’:

Turn, Cornwall, turn and tear him!
    Stamp him in the sod!
He will not fear your cry so clear –
    Only the cry of God.

Both poems are in Picador’s Collected Poems 1951-2000, where the ballad form is well represented. Causley is known for the stoical forms he uses for his tragedies, juxtaposing misery and tragedy against bouncy ballad rhymes. The Causley ballad form Clemo borrows is a contrast to his earlier Francis Thompson or Coventry Patmore sorts of odes, and the poem gaily marches along.

This is altered in the second version of 1974, where the tone is bleaker and the heaps of alliteration and lengthening of vowels slow the pace while giving a greater texture to the language and a little menace. The most obvious change, however, is the extra line Clemo has added to the end of each stanza, which he has italicized. The italicized line is the voice of modernity, further undermining the buoyant ballad. This simple idea deepens the piece, dramatizes it and allows for the final stanza’s triumph, where the form is reclaimed and the italics gone.

Where the idea for this came from is uncertain. Elsewhere in the same volume, Clemo has used italicized Latin, self-consciously playing with Ezra Pound, but it is more reminiscent here of the dramatic repetitious endlines of Poe or the metaphysical poets. What it does show is the difference a second draft makes. Blind and deaf at this point, Clemo composed and revised poems in his head before committing them to paper. He had an exceptional memory, and appears to have held this old draft sufficiently well over the five years that he could still play with it there five years later. The method is interesting, but the layers of significance the poem gains in the reworking, I think, are even more so.

(Both poems appear courtesy of University of Exeter's Special Collections Library.)

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Jack Clemo's Jukebox

It might seem a peculiar idea to be considering the music a deaf man listened to, but bear with me. Before he went deaf, and then blind, Clemo enjoyed music. He and his mother both played their little pump organ in the cottage quite competently, and Clemo loved the old Sankey hymns. He had a good memory, and even when he was deaf he would play these hymns in his head over and over, like a favourite record. That organ was destroyed in 1951, and Clemo’s blindness overwhelmed him soon after. His health was so poor – his ears, eyes and heart – that doctors prepared him for the worst and he believed he was going to die. Initially, he sank into a terrible gloom. Instead of getting better, as he had expected, his suffering increased, and instead of getting married, he was distanced further from society and conversation. This was not what his faith had led him to expect.

Then the American ‘hot gospel’ movement of the mid-1950s penetrated the darkness, with news of Billy Graham’s dramatically successful ‘Crusade’ at Harringay, followed by the healer Oral Roberts’ ministries in England and the evangelical child star Renee Martz’s vibrant tours with her trumpet. In the midst of such an optimistic mood, Clemo made a leap of faith and spent £13 on a gramophone. He was ‘stone deaf' when he bought it, he writes in his diary, and it was really the only extravagant purchase he had made. Most of their life Jack and his mother had lived poorly and frugally on her war widow’s pension, until Jack published his first novel, autobiography and a small volume of poetry. £13 was a considerable sum to spend on such a thing, especially as he could not hear.

Nevertheless, they set it up by the sofa, and Jack’s mother went to St Austell to buy the 7” single of Renee Martz’s first release, ‘The Song that God Sings / The Large, Large House’, and a record by George Beverly Shea, probably another 7” single, ‘How Great Thou Art / America the Beautiful’. Shea’s baritone was a regular feature of the Billy Graham Crusades, and Clemo found that when he pressed his ear against the machine and turned it up, he could just about hear the rumbling of Shea’s hymn. Martz, meanwhile, was just a little squeak. But then:

One day in November, when I had a cold, I blew my nose and felt a squelching sensation deep inside my ear – and I heard myself cough. I hurried to fetch Renee Martz’s record, and a few minutes later stood spellbound, listening to her clear strong voice soaring amid a thunder of jazz.

That Clemo was able to hear the music was remarkable, though there was no real ‘thunder of jazz’. ‘The Song that God Sings’ is straight pop gospel, though ‘The Large, Large House’ had an upbeat, swinging accompaniment. This is Clemo’s only experience of jazz, it seems, which is relevant to his writing. In the poem ‘Lunar Pentecost’ we find ‘God’s jazz-drums’ and ‘The beating jazz-fire’, while in ‘Homeland’ we read of ‘Christ’s ragtime sacrament’. Does it make a difference to the poetry that Clemo did not know of real jazz? Perhaps not much, but reading the verses with a sense of the syncopated rhythms of ragtime is a different experience from reading them with the tamer pop gospel and hymnal jazzy rhythms in mind. He wrote these poems in the heydays of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis. Clemo invoking jazz in this age is as generically offbeat as a contemporary poet invoking G-Funk or grime to make a point when their awareness of rap begins and ends with Pete McSweet.

Anyway, Jack loved the gramophone and from archival references, the following is the peculiar playlist of vinyl I’ve built so far:

Renee Martz - The Song that God Sings / The Large, Large House
Renee Martz – Revivalist Songs
George Beverly Shea - How Great Thou Art / America the Beautiful
Jo Stafford and Gordon McRae – Whispering Hope / A Thought in My Heart
Redd Harper – I’m a Christian Cowboy
The Harringay Choir – To God be the glory, great things He hath done
Beethoven – Ninth Symphony
Beethoven - Missa Solemnis
Japanese Folk Songs – (likely ‘Katsumasa Takasago – Flower Dance (Japanese Folk Melodies)’)
Bach - Unknown

He had, in addition, a great number of hymns on vinyl by unspecified choirs and singers, with favourites including ‘Just as I am’, ‘And can it be’, ‘My Redeemer Liveth’ and ‘Breathe on me, Breath of God.’ The last of these was played at his funeral and memorial services in 1994.

The folk music is probably the surprise entry, and this was sent to Jack by his friend, the poet and travel writer James Kirkup, in 1968, when Kirkup was living in Japan. It was certainly not Jack’s favourite album.

The record player was an important character in Clemo’s life. The Martz records were played in the hope that a connection with the divine might be reinforced and healing effected. On New Year’s Eve, often he would stay up after his mother had gone to bed, playing those gospel tunes in the granite cottage and praying. And it had another function. You could vary the volume of a record player, so Clemo could listen to things he would otherwise be unable to hear. In the early sixties he would ask a girlfriend to record her voice onto vinyl, and later he would record noises in the landscape on his tape player, so he could play them back at volume, his head against the speaker, listening to the sounds of people and places normally withdrawn from him. In a typically unique way, Jack’s gramophone reconnected him with the world.