So wrote D.H. Lawrence from Gargnano on Lake Garda in 1912. In his letters home he requested English books, numerous examples sent out to him by many of his compatriots. Among these books were contemporary works by Arnold Bennett, Forrest Reid and Edith Wharton, as well as a biography of Burns, a play by Yeats and a version of Sappho. Another work received was Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon. These books were read, discussed and recirculated, shared and sent back to friends. Lawrence relied heavily on this manner of correspondence and exchange during this period in Italy. What interests me in connection with John Ireland is that the composer read exactly these same works, drawing on Swinburne in his piano work, Sarnia. He also swapped and discussed fiction and poetry in a similar manner with his friend Kenneth Thompson. Forrest Reid in particular is a name that recurs in Ireland’s letters to Thompson, the two men reading Uncle Stephen. The idea of using books as communication and connection is fascinating, and extends to many writers and musicians.
With thanks to Andrew Harrison, for his paper on Lawrence’s reading habits at the D.H. Lawrence conference, 2014