The Gloucestershire Archive also holds the papers of John (or 'Jack') Haines. Haines became what archivists call a 'hub'. He knew all the important people, and they knew each other through him. Haines was a solicitor, a poet and poetry-lover, and a keen amateur botanist, and he and Robert Frost struck up a close friendship during 1914, wandering the Gloucestershire countryside together in search of rare flowers. Frost continued to correspond with Haines after returning to the States, and visited Haines in England in 1928 and 1957.
Haines serves as the bridge between Frost and Gurney. Those two poets never met; unknowingly, they lived just a few miles apart in Gloucestershire for a year. The closest Gurney came to any of the Dymock poets was when he walked to Dymock to call unannounced on Lascelles Abercrombie. Abercrombie, as it happens, was away in Manchester working at a munitions factory, so Gurney passed a few hours chatting to his wife before continuing his walk.
Haines considered Gurney 'the most dynamic creature [he] ever met'. Pamela Blevins quotes Haines's description of Gurney: 'a remarkable figure, tall, handsome, powerful, crammed with vitality, excessively opinionated and somewhat violent in his critical views.' Gurney was 'a rebel who hates being a rebel and worships the order and discipline he finds so incompatible with his nature.' Reading Haines on Gurney, it is impossible not to wonder why he didn't bring Frost and Edward Thomas and Gurney together in one room; and impossible, as well, not to speculate about what might have happened at such a meeting.
Gurney was introduced to Thomas's poetry through Haines, who had written an essay of appreciation after Thomas's death. Haines remained a loyal friend to Gurney during the asylum years, although there is some evidence that Gurney turned against him around 1928. For reasons which aren't clear, Haines never brought to publication an edition of Gurney's poetry which he had been planning.
I was glancing through Haines's papers yesterday when I came across an unpublished letter from Robert Frost. The date given is June 1914, when Frost was living at Liddle Iddens in Ledington, just outside Dymock. Many other of Frost's letters to Haines have been printed in Selected Letters; if the editor, Lawrance Thompson, knew about this one, it is odd that he didn't include it. Frost talks candidly about the relative merits of poems in his first book, A Boy's Will, comments that the 'second paragraph' of 'My Butterfly' was the first time that he had succeeded in capturing 'the speaking note', and wishes that he had left other poems out of the book for their lack of that 'note'.
Which leads me, as I wind down this most peripatetic of postings, to wonder why there is no Collected Letters of Robert Frost. The Selected was published in 1964, and is long out of print. The past few years have given us Frost's Notebooks and his Collected Prose. I believe that his selected lectures are on their way. Time for some young American scholar to produce a thorough and scholarly edition of the letters.
Update: for more on Haines and Gurney, see Philip Lancaster's blog here.