We take child musicians, both composers and players, very seriously indeed, but not young writers. Perhaps it is true that no little boy has ever written a novel to rival Mozart’s operetta Bastien und Bastienne, nor a youth of 17 a poem quite on a par with Bizet’s Symphony in C, but Neville Braybrooke’s anthology of literary juvenilia is almost entirely free of quaint jottings for their own sake, like those hamfisted splodges of watercolour mothers proudly pin up in the kitchen in the fond belief that their six-year-old has produced something called child art. There is much here genuinely to admire, and a lot to enjoy. The title is a bit of a cheat, for with the exception of Yeats and Hughes the contributors appear in the order in which they were born, but I suppose ‘From W B Yeats to Ted Hughes’ looked more saleable on the jacket than ‘From Beatrice Webb to Piers Paul Read’. Moreover, no fewer than fourteen of the authors produced their contributions before 1900, and strictly speaking should not be in at all, but who would wish to have Beatrix Potter’s splendid adolescent reports on 19th century fashion and travel excluded, or to lose a brilliantly sustained poetic invective against women, written by a budding misogynist called E M Forster when he was only 12?
In his essay ‘The Writer as Listener’ Ronald Blyth has said ‘it is important to read young writers of promise, for it is usually only they who can authenticate the present, who can convey its tone.’ There is an interesting and very marked difference in tone here between promising writers