Folk and Vernacular Tats is a gay and entirely delightful
book, obviously the perfect Christmas present for 1951. I can think of hardly anybody who won't find something to like about it. One could give it—with equal propriety—to one's great-aunt who likes a " nice book," or to the undergraduate nephew who only likes books with titles like Whither Positivism or The New Integration. But Miss. Jones has produced something more than a suitable Yuletide gift. The Unsophisticated Arts is plainly destined to be an important- source- book for that monumental history of taste which, one supposes, will sooner or later have to be compiled—on one side of the Atlantic or the other—under the editorship (one hopes) of Messrs. Betjeman and Lancaster.
By the " unsophisticated " arts Miss Jones means " the things that people make for themselves or that are manufactured in their taste." These she divides neatly into " folk " and " vernacular " art. Most of the folk arts, as she says, are dead, or only self-consciously kept alive—smocking, weaving, Morris dancing, &c. Vernacular art, on the other hand—i.e., the things made by machine, or " outside the village on a wholesale scale "—is still with us, though it is being rapidly " streamlined " -out of existence. Miss Jones's study deals, as one would expect, chiefly with the nineteenth century ; for vernacular art—as opposed to folk art on the one hand, and modern " streamlined " products on the other—was pre- eminently the art of the industrial Revolution. 1914 is, as Miss Jones suggests, roughly the " tombstone date " for the tradition with which she is chiefly concerned.
This book, it must be said at once, is primarily a picture-book, and the illustrations—for the most part by Miss Jones herself—kept me guiltily absorbed for a whore morning, when I should have been busy with other tasks but the text, also, is a delight—informed, witty and infinitely readable. Miss Jones has cast her net widely. Seaside architecture, roundabouts, taxidermy, pompes funebres, canal barges, Christmas-tree baubles, Punch and Judy, public monuments —those are some of the more-Obvious topics dealt with. Among her more recondite excursions, I was particularly delighted by the descriptions of letter headings, trade catalogues, birthday cards, firework wrappings, tattooing and proprietary labels. (I'm glad she spott,ed the delightful one on the Camp Coffee bottle, which has always been a favourite of mine.) Among such an embarrassment of riches it is difficult to pick out the plums ; but I think the shOrt chapter devoted to Canford Magna, that remarkable model village of the 'sixties, is one of the best things in the book. The drawings of John Hicks's rustic porches are extremely beautiful.
- The popular arts today are, as Miss Jones points out, inspired less and less by the genuine demands of the consumer ; yet she has a kind word even for the cinema-posters and jazz-linos of our own time, which, as she says, will no doubt in their turn acquire a period charm—though they are not (as she demurely adds) " really pleasing just yet." This book, in fact, raises once again the old, old question of how much our taste is founded on permanently valid aesthetic standards, and how much on period interest and mere nostalgic association. Who shall say (for instance) how deeply Mr. Betjeman's tongue is embedded in his cheek ? The taste for Victorian Gothic is now (I am told) giving place to a cult for the ribbon-developed suburbs of the nineteen-twenties ; it is the latest flicker of the Romantic agony, an esthedsme de batdieue beyond the dreams of a des Esseintes. Probably it's all mixed up with the New Integration (or something)—I wouldn't know ; but what I do know is that Miss Jones has performed a- valuable service in thus recording, so amusingly and so sensitively, , these charming ephemera which, for our grandchildren, will (I suppose) seem as remote from and irrelevant to their time as the graffiti at Pompeii.