Smith: a Tragedy.

Glasgow, Frederick W. Wilson and Brother, 1888.

16mo, pp. 70, with half-title; some foxing at the extremities and a few small marks but a very good copy, uncut, in the original printed parchment wrappers (slightly toned and spotted as usual).


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Smith: a Tragedy.

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First edition of a rare foray into drama by a Scottish poet who influenced T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. John Davidson (1857-1909) was highly regarded during his lifetime by writers like W.B. Yeats, and later by Eliot, Stevens, and Aldous Huxley. Along with Yeats, Ernest Dowson, and others, he was a member of The Rhymers Club, whose members met at the ‘Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese’ in Fleet Street. His poem ‘Thirty Bob a Week’ (1905 was a particular favourite of Eliot’s, who edited a collection of Davidson’s poems in 1961, and frequently vocalised the artistic debt he owed the Scottish poet. Davidson’s own life was consistently tragic, and his constant money troubles and bouts of depression eventually caused him to commit suicide in March 1909.

Smith: A Tragedy, is one of Davidson’s earlier works and one of his rare ventures into drama. In 1894 when the play was reprinted alongside three of Davidson’s other plays, it was given the new title of ‘A Tragic Farce’. This description better characterises a work in which the strictures of tragedy are often lampooned. In the play’s tone can be seen the germination of what Huxley called Davidson’s ‘strenuous romanticism’, which combines ‘individualistic anarchy’ and ‘moral earnestness’. The intellectual and airy meanderings of poets are also jovially critiqued, although the joke becomes slightly uncomfortable given the similarity between the suicide of the hapless poet Hallowes, and the death of Davidson himself.

Watson, III, p. 620.

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