Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sword in the Stone

[T. H. White to Leonard James Potts]

January 14, 1938
Crown Hotel, Wells, Norfolk

Dear Pottes,

No, I am not married, divorced, in gaol or dead. I have 41 pounds in the bank. No books have been published since the last you heard of--England H. M. B.--but there is one in the press. I think it is one of my better books, so probably nobody else will. It is a preface to Malory. Do you remember I once wrote a thesis on the Morte d'Arthur? Naturally I did not read Malory when writing the thesis on him, but one time last autumn I got desperate among my books and picked him up in lack of anything else. Then I was thrilled and astonished to find that (a) The thing was a perfect tragedy, with a beginning, a middle and an end implicit in the beginning and (b) the characters were real people with recognisable reactions which could be forecast. Mordred was hateful, Kay a decent chap with an inferiority complex, Gawaine that rarest of literary productions, a swine with a streak of solid decency. He was a sterling fellow to his own clan. Arthur, Lancelot and even Galahad were really glorious people--not pre-raphaelite prigs. Anyway, I somehow started writing a book. It is not a satire. Indeed, I am afraid it is rather warm-hearted--mainly about birds and beasts. . . So far as I can make out, Macmillans are going to refuse to take it up in America, so perhaps it is a bad book after all. Their refusal will incidentally land me in queer street financially, as I have gambled on them taking it. What I fear is that it has feeble traces of A. A. Milne. I should have liked it to be like Masefield's Midnight Folk, a book which I love this side of idolatry. It is called The Sword in the Stone.

I did a lot of research into the 14th-15th centuries, in a mild way.

I have also written a book called Burke's Steerage or the Amateur Gentleman's Introduction to Noble Sports and Pastimes. It is a short, cheap thing, doing for sport what Cornford's Microcosmographia Academica' did for your damned university. But it is not good.

Also I wrote a book called "A Sort of Mania" [this became The Goshawk]. It is about my hawks and living as a hermit. Unfortunately I believe I shall have to re-write it entirely, as it has faint traces of value.

Writing books is a heart breaking job. When I write a good one it is too good for the public and I starve, when a bad one you and Mary are rude about it. This Sword in the Stone (forgive my reverting to it and probably boring you sick--I have nobody to tell things to) may fail financially through being too good for the swine. It has (I fear) its swinish Milneish parts (but, my God, I'd gladly be a Milne for the Milne money) but it is packed with accurate historical knowledge and good allusive criticism of chivalry ( I make the fox-huntin' comparison with some glee) which nobody but you will notice.

. . .I am staying in Norfolk to shoot wild geese--the latest craze. God knows what I shall think of next.

Love and forgiveness to you.


-from Letters to a Friend: The Correspondence Between T. H. White and L. J. Potts. Edited and Introduced with Notes by Francois Gallix (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1982) p. 93-95.

1 comment:

avirr said...

Thanks for the letter transcription, funny to think of him and Tolkien as near-contemporaries.