TOWNSEND WARNER, Sylvia T. H. White: A Biography [with] two ALS by the author London: Jonathan Cape with Chatto & Windus, 1967.
8vo., original brick-red pubisher's cloth, backstrip lettered in gilt; upper edge black; in the original unclipped jacket with a photograph of white to the upper panel, and facsimile letter to the lower; pictorial endpapers; pp. [vii], 8-352; faint pushing to spine tips and offsetting to endleaves, else a near-fine copy, in the very good dust jacket slightly rubbed at tips and sun bleached to spine.
First edition. Warner was given access to White's papers shortly after his death in 1964. Her biography was regarded by the New York Times as ""a small masterpiece which may well be read long after the writings of its subject have been forgotten."
Two autograph letters signed by Townsend, addressed to a Mr John da Silva. The first, dated 20th October 1964, is a letter in which she, having been asked to write a biography of T. H. White, reaches out to Mr da Silva, a former school pupil of the great Arthurian writer. "I should be extremely grateful to have your impressions of him at this stage in his career", she writes. "He wrote in his various books about all his activities - except teaching… he must have been a remarkable and stimulating teacher."
The reply from da Silva comes just over a month letter, in the form of two typed sheets recounting his memories of being at school in the master's company. "I remember him with great affection" the letter begins, before recounting many different experiences during the inter-war years between 1934-5. "We were Tim's original 'tutees'. Because the group was so small lessons with him used to take place in his study, a shady room overlooking the Orangery at Stowe with two big square stuffed chairs side by side facing the fireplace, book shelves around the room and pipes and tobacco, I seem to remember, in considerable profusion on the tables… Tim was very like the self-portrait of Van Gogh wearing a hat."
He goes on: "Tim was then I suppose in his late twenties and a fairy Bohemian figure even by Stowe standards which were not noticeably strict. He had an old open black Bentley and a red setter and among the boys enjoyed a reputation exciting, faintly discreditable and much envied on the strength of 'Loved Helen' and 'They Winter Abroad', copies of which were eagerly sought after."
da Silva goes on to describe two incidences where White was involved in car accidents. In the first, he drove through the front wall of a cottage; in the other da Silva was the one driving, and after sharing several drinks in a nearby pub, "I inexpertly skidded on the cattle grid… the ensuing bump threw him [White] forward so he hit his head on the knob of the windscreen wiper, cutting himself slightly. He made a terrible fuss about it."
Warner's response to these elucidations is also included. Dated in the early January of the following year, she writes: "I was greatly interested in your story of the cattle grid. It is typical of him… in major misfortunes he could be heroic - though not invariably, but what authentic character is consistent?"
An illuminating series of letters together with the biography of this important writer, by an English novelist who herself was equally well regarded.