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Old Junk   By: (1873-1958)

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COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC. Second Printing August, 1920



C. H. G. H.

Who saw with me so much of what is in this book

( Killed in action in Artois, August 27th, 1918 )

These stories of travel and chance have been selected from writings published in various periodicals between January 1907 and April 1918, and are arranged in order of time.


The author of OLD JUNK has been called a legend. A colleague who during the later stages of the war visited the western front assured me that this was the right word by which to describe the memory left among officers and men, not so much by his work as a war correspondent, as by his original and fascinating character. A legend, too, he appears to be in the newspaper world of London: but there in a different sense, by reason of the singular contradiction between the human creature beloved of all his fellows and the remarkable productions of his pen.

The first thing to say about H. M. Tomlinson, the thing of which you become acutely aware on making his acquaintance, is that he is a Londoner. "Nearly a pure blooded London Saxon" is his characterization of himself. And so it is. He could have sprung from no other stock. In person and speech, in the indefinable quality of the man, in the humour which continually tempers his tremendous seriousness, he belongs to London. Among the men of our time who have done creative writing I can think of no other about whom this can be so precisely stated.

It was in the opening years of the century that I first began to notice his work. His name was appearing in the columns of a London morning newspaper, since absorbed by the Daily News, over articles which, if my memory is not at fault, were mainly concerned with the life of Thames side. They were written with extraordinary care. The man who did them had, clearly, no competitor in Fleet Street. And he furnishes a striking illustration of the chances and misfits of the journalistic life. When, after some years of absence in the Far East, I was able to fit a person to the writing which had so long attracted me, I found H. M. Tomlinson on the regular reporting staff of a great London newspaper. A man born for the creation of beauty in words was doing daily turn along with the humble chronicler of metropolitan trivialities.

A year or two before the war the quality of his mind and of his style was revealed in THE SEA AND THE JUNGLE a "narrative of the voyage of the tramp steamer Capella, from Swansea to Para in the Brazils, and thence two thousand miles along the forests of the Amazon and Madeira Rivers to the San Antonio Falls," returning by Barbados, Jamaica, and Tampa. Its author called it merely "an honest book of travel." It is that no doubt; but in a degree so eminent, one is tempted to say that an honest book of travel, when so conceived and executed, must surely count among the noblest works of the literary artist.

The great war provided almost unlimited work for men of letters, and not seldom work that was almost as far from their ordinary business as fighting itself. It carried Tomlinson into the guild of war correspondents. In the early months he represented the paper to which for some years he had been attached, the London Daily News. Later, under the co operative scheme which emerged from the restrictive policy adopted by all the belligerent governments, his dispatches came to be shared among a partnership which included the London Times as odd an arrangement for a man like Tomlinson as could well be imagined. It would be foolish to attempt an estimate of his correspondence from France. It was beautiful copy, but it was not war reporting. To those of us who knew him it remained a marvel how he could do it at all. But there was no marvel in the fact, attested by a notable variety of witnesses, of Tomlinson as an influence and a memory, persisting until the dispersal of the armies, as of one who was the friend of all, a sweet and fine spirit moving untouched amid the ruin and terror, expressing itself everywhere with perfect simplicity, and at times with a shattering candor... Continue reading book >>

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