Books & Writers - Sydney Fowler-Wright
by N. Fowler-Wright
Books & Writers - Sydney Fowler-Wright
"THE surface trembled, and was still, and the Himalayas were untroubled, and the great tableland of Central Asia was still behind them, but the tide lapped the foothills to the south, and India was no more, and China a forgotten dream...." These are the opening words of Deluge, a book that was refused by practically every London publisher, and which my father, Sydney Fowler-Wright, was obliged to have privately printed in 1927. Within a month, this description of a second Flood which leaves only the remnants of civilisation in a few tiny islands, relics of the English Midlands, had become a world-wide best-seller. The American edition sold 70,000 copies on the day of publication, and 160,000 within a week. At home, Arnold Bennett, Edward Shanks and Gerald Gould led the praise of this first novel.
Like several others of the author's books, Deluge was written on the train during business trips between London and Birmingham, where he practised as an accountant. At the age of ten he had left school (King Edward's), convinced that there was no more that his masters could teach him It is remarkable that his parents agreed to such a course, and that within a few years he established himself as an accountant in the city,
In the past forty years some sixty books by him have been published, ranging from a translation into English verse of the Divine Comedy to a series of detective novels; from a biography of Sir Walter Scott, to a work which accurately foretold the date and extent of the Second World War; from a completion and revision of Scott's unfinished manuscript, The Knights of Malta, to the realms of pure phantasy in The Island Of Captain Sparrow, or The World Below.
When Prelude in Prague or The War of 1938 was published in 1935, Arnold Bennett's, earlier comment was recalled: 'Fowler-Wright's canvasses of world disaster have been in sufficiently appreciated in Britain.' Commissioned by a Sunday newspaper, it was subsequently published as a book and translated into every European language. The German Foreign Office immediately banned the work. Its title was altered by one year to 1938 by the publisher, who was anxious to make the danger appear more imminent.
Lockhart spoke of Scott's manuscript as 'illegible nonsense' but this did not deter such an admirer as Fowler-Wright from searching for it, and it was eventually discovered in New York. It proved to be an account, without definite plot, of the sixteenth-century siege of Malta by the Turks. From one slight clue concerning a treacherous herald, it was possible to build a full-length historical romance. Like Deluge, The Island of Captain Sparrow sold more than a million copies and was subsequently published by both 'Penguin' and 'Cherry Tree' Books.
Mention must be made of the Poetry League. Founded in Birmingham by Sydney Fowler-Wright in the early 1920s, it fostered the writing of poetry by many who were then unknown. Its membership included R. Crompton Rhodes, L. A. G. Strong, H. E. Bates, the late Bishop Barnes and G. K. Chesterton. Alas, that the last two should have been invited on one occasion, to sit on the same platform! The Bishop wrote to say that he would not consider appearing in public in company with 'that man'. Chesterton arrived for the meeting alone. I do not think that my father had any hesitation in making his choice. As a result of the poetry competitions held at our home in Handsworth Wood and at the Caxton Hall in London - where the meetings were presided over by either Humbert Wolfe or G.K.C. - it was possible to bring out a series of county anthologies consisting of poems written by the inhabitants of the various counties.
Unfortunately, the members of the Poetry League were quicker to send their poems into the editorial office (my father was editing Poetry and Play at the time), as they did literally by the thousand, than they were to send their subscriptions. The League had to be disbanded. Sydney Fowler-Wright depended on his wife, who was secretary of the League, for inspiration and guidance in all his literary work.
But a true poet never despairs of his art. For thirty years he worked on a new rendering of the Arthurian Legends in verse. When his offices in Fetter Lane were destroyed by enemy action, the nearly-completed script was lost. After a prolonged claim for compensation from the War Damage Commission, an Oxford professor referred to a small portion of the work, Scenes from The Morte D'Arthur, published in 1920, as 'a work of art'. On the strength of this report the Commissioners refused any payment, since 'works of art' were beyond their scope. Sydney Fowler-Wright was obliged to start again. He celebrated his eighty-second birthday by re-completing the script, ready for publication.