Bonhams’ sale on 29 November 2011, of ‘Books, Maps & Manuscripts and Photographs’ included a rare first edition of Hawker’s earliest published work, Tendrils, by ‘Reuben’. The bid price achieved was £1000 from a private buyer.

Tendrils was published by Hatchard & Son in 1821, while Hawker was still a pupil at Cheltenham Grammar School. It is dedicated ‘To the Friends of my Early Boyhood’, and C. E. Byles describes the preface as showing ‘a modesty and candour all too infrequent among youthful poets’. Hawker was an admirer of the writer Thomas Moore, and the quotation on the title page is from Moore’s ‘Oriental romance’, Lalla Rookh, published in 1817. It reads: ‘Poets are a sensitive race, whose sweetness is not to be drawn forth, like that of the fragrant grass near the Ganges, by crushing and trampling upon them.’

Tendrils was reprinted in Cornish Ballads, edited by Byles ( John Lane, 1904). In the Contents list for my copy the Preface is shown as included on page 229, but it seems to have been missed out and the only text on that page is the dedication. Fortunately, Patrick Hutton devotes several pages to Tendrils in his 2004 book on Hawker’s life and work, and includes the Preface along with extracts from the poems:

‘When a first attempt is submitted to public notice and judgement, its readers may very naturally desire to know somewhat concerning him who has the temerity to make it.

But the writer of the following rhymes has little in himself to excite interest, and less to afford gratification; he is content to wrap the veil of obscurity around his head until the voice of public opinion shall have passed by.

To apologize in some measure, however, for the abundant imperfections of the first effort of his pen, he would express a hope that the productions of one over whom eighteen summers have scarcely passed will carry some excuse with them; and as his motive for thrusting them on the world, he would plead that a measure of vanity has been meted to us all, and his portion has in no wise been withheld.’

(I would not be forgotten, p. 4. Patrick Hutton, Tabb House, 2004)

Like most first efforts at poetry the volume was not a financial success, and an entry made by Hawker in one of his notebooks many years afterwards seems to sum up his feelings on the subject: ‘PATHOS. In the Times to-day it is said: ‘A young man slew himself. On his table was a paper written : “Life is sweet (common proverb). I have found it bitter.”‘ Some disappointment in literary undertakings. Cf. Cheltenham, 1820.’

(Life & Letters, p. 11. Ed. C. E. Byles, John Lane, 1906)

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Photo from Bonhams’ website. Used by permission.

Text © Angela Williams 2012