A century ago this summer, Walter de la Mare arrived by train in Dorchester to meet Thomas Hardy. The two had been in correspondence since Hardy had written to introduce himself three years before. Hardy told de la Mare that he had been clearing out a cupboard when he had come across the latter’s generous review of his huge poetic drama The Dynasts: ‘If I saw it at all at the time it came out – ten years ago – your name did not convey to me as it does now any of those delightful sensations of moonlight & forests & haunted houses which I myself seem to have visited, curiously enough.’
De la Mare’s literary career was then at its height: 1921 was the year he published both the poetry volume The Veil and his most successful novel, Memoirs of a Midget (‘I hope it will attract, but somehow I like to think of him best as writing verse,’ remarked Hardy to Sir Henry Newbolt). De la Mare’s stay did nothing to diminish the mutual appreciation. Hardy arranged a visit to the churchyard where he planned to be buried and the two compared notes on gravestones: Hardy liked to scrape them clean; de la Mare preferred them with the green left on. On their return, Hardy asked de la Mare for help finishing his poem ‘Voices from Things Growing in a Churchyard’. De la Mare presented Hardy with a first edition of his 1912 collection The Listeners. Hardy told Newbolt how taken he had been with his guest. De la Mare was duly invited back.
Flash-forward to 2021 and Hardy’s high regard for de la Mare may seem a puzzle. De la Mare has been out of fashion for a long time. Moreover, it may seem that it is the fiction, not the verse, which has the better claim on contemporary attention. A favourite of