The Times Literary Supplement, July 5, 1934
Sir,—I regret that when writing his book on Lowes Dickinson, Mr. Forster did not think of consulting me before putting into print a dozen pages from some unpublished “Recollections” of Mr. Dickinson’s which leave quite a wrong impression on a reader’s mind. It so happened that in 1885 I was a neighbour of Mr. Harold Cox, who was then attempting to reclaim some acres of very barren land at Tilford, in Surrey, and had imported from Kent a family of farm labourers for that purpose. Dickinson, a young man of twenty-three, was staying with Mr. Cox, in order to take part in the enterprise, and being gifted with a sense of humour seems to have left a burlesqued account of the whole affair, in which I am made a figure, quite contrary to fact, as one who had been “a rebellious master of Eton,” and the two households, Mr. Cox’s and mine, appear to be living together in a sort of riotous confusion. Here it is that I wish Mr. Forster had made inquiry.
It seems to me, too, that the real humour of the situation has been someone missed by Mr. Foster. This lay in the amazement—I might almost cal it consternation—of the Kentish labourers at the quality of the sandy Tilford soil. Mr. Bernard Shaw, who was often our guest at the time, has, I believe, recorded that all Mr. Cox could do with the estate was to make radish jam. I can certify that when, a few months later, we sent Mr. Cox, by letter, to India, one of the best carrots his land had produced we did not have extra postage to pay. But the convincing incident took place on Sunday afternoon, when a small party of us strolled out to one of the little hills known as The Devil’s Jumps, accompanied by the parent and leader of Mr. Cox’s Kentish agriculturists, and there, seated on the summit, awaited with interest the expert husbandman’s verdict on the sandy scene. He would have something to tell us, we did not doubt, of the contrast present by the rich loam of Kent and the lighter soil of Surrey—something at once instructive perhaps, and picturesque. What actually happened was this. He stood for some minutes, gazing in amazed silence on the Sahara beneath us, and then, turning to our little company, exclaimed in a tone of deep earnestness:—“Well, I am—.” I must leave the reader to supply the last word as he chooses.
I have sometimes wondered whether it may have been his early experience of that essay in what was called “cooperative farming” that so repelled Lowes Dickinson from all rash adventures as to make him the rather halting and indecisive figure whom we see in Mr. Foster’s book. But I much liked and admired him, and I think his face was a really beautiful one. As late as 1929 I had a letter from him, in which he spoke of those old Tilford days.
Yours,Henry S. Salt