25 NOVEMBER 1932, Page 23

Mr. Drinkwater's Autobiography

"A MORE commonplace existence than mine between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six could not be devised," says Mr. Drinkwater of the period of his life covered by this book. "My only hope of liberation lay not in anything I was accom- plishing, hardly, it must seem almost, in anything I was, but in a dissatisfaction, a sense that what I was doing meant nothing to me." And yet what a man does must be to a very large extent an indication of what he is. Moreover, in looking back at any period of our lives, there arc certain events, com- monplace enough in themselves perhaps, that by association, or because they converge at a particular point in our expe- rience, are invested for us with a great deal of private signifi- cance. But should we, in writing the story of our lives, present those events as merely black and white facts, uncoloured by the mental processes which give them their special significance, We cannot blame our readers if they find our story rather unin- teresting. It would be unfair to suggest, however, that Mr. Drinkwater's story of his life is altogether colourless : indeed, those who want to know the facts of his development, and ask for nothing more than his peculiarly modest way of presenting them, will doubtless have their reward in a perusal of this book. Others, expecting something more than this from an autobiography, will be disappointed.

Mr. Drinkwater began earning his living as an office boy in a Nottingham insurance office at a salary of twenty pounds a year. Later he became a clerk at thirty-five pounds a year, having threepence for his midday meal, which consisted of Porridge and a bag of rotten fruit. When his father left him alone in Nottingham at the age of sixteen, "he did not," says Mr. Drinkwater, "ask me if there was anything I wanted to know," and it was not till he inadvertently opened the board- ing-house bathroom door upon "a vision that I have neve' forgotten" that he "realized that life was difficult." But, taking a healthy interest in sport, Mr. Drinkwater was not unduly perturbed by the discomforts of adolescence. His enthusiasm for literature came to him at the age of twenty upon the discovery of Stephen Phillips' poetry, and nowadays he deplores "the contemptuous disregard of Phillips by critics who hail the publication of a six-page pamphlet by some eminently constipated poet as an event of high literary importance." But the Discovery took place "in January, 1903, to be exact" as he was walking home late one night along the Moseley Road, Nottingham. Suddenly Mr. Drink- water had a peculiar feeling and began writing poctry, and in the autumn of that year he paid a local bookseller to print a small volume of his verse. "A more barren work has never appeared from an English Press. . . . I do not think that a copy was bought by the public." Three years later he pub- lished another book, Leander and Other Poems, which, he says, was not quite "so deplorably banal as the other volume."

Although he had long had a passion for the theatre, inflamed originally by Irving's performances of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Monsieur Beaucaire and The Only Way, Mr. Drinkwater's first real experience of theatricals came to him in 1904, when he played Fabian in Barry Jackson's amateur production of Twelfth Night. And, altogether, he found the Jacksons such nice people that, when they asked him to supper, he did not feel nearly so awkward "negotiating the cutlery" as he had expected. 'But," says he, "let them laugh who have never known the pains of self-improvement." During the next live years the Twelfth Night company became "The Pilgrim Players," and Mr. Drinkwater left his insurance office to join them "and for the first time in my life the whole of my time was employed in work that meant joy and liberation." In 1912 the " Pilgrims " developed into a professional company with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre as their head- quarters, and Mr. Drinkwatcr as their manager. But the story of that enterprise is reserved for another time. Mean- while, Discovery is an honest book, written quietly and con- cisely, but otherwise moderately inconspicuous.