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Saturday, 17th May 2008
Author Author

T he pen is mightier than the sword

You can safely assume this was written by a pen and not hewn from stone with a sword. It is churlish to suggest the keyboard is mightier than the pen.

The point is, the written word is powerful stuff. There could well be a future in which recording devices reach such a stage we no longer actually write anything but it is a brave future where people do not read anything.

The internet certainly does not represent anything other than a boon for written text.

Wills, Famous British Authors [1937] 40 large cards    

In certain quarters it is fashionable to suggest people are not reading the right stuff. I have read a good number of the " classics " but for some people I cheated because I read them in translation rather than the original text.

I'll be dead. Smug is smug

Now I read Tom Clancey and Stephen King, when I get the time, smug in the knowledge that in 100 years time these will be classics, and if they are not, who cares I'll be dead. Smug is smug.

To be of any value a book has to engage the audience in some manner, if the writing of long dead Greek historian is boring then watch the film, it's better that way. Quoting Homer is just as demanding as quoting Bart but no more.

Wills produced " Famous British Authors " in 1937 as a series of 40 large cards.

Hilaire Belloc appears in the set, historian, critic, poet and Roman Catholic controversialist, author of " Hills and the Sea ", " Cautionary Tales " for a younger audience and a " History of England ". All real page-turners by the sounds of it.

rock stars

Wills used the word famous quite liberally rather than literally. It has been written that authors were considered the rock-stars of their day. Certainly some authors could teach a generation about drug abuse.

...we would be neck deep in cigarette cards depicting authors...

Of course this cannot quite be true otherwise we would be neck deep in cigarette cards depicting authors in the same way we are with modern trade cards concerning rock stars. Instead there are very few sets of cards which deal with this subject matter directly, but usually focus on the characters these people created.

It is just fashionable to make useless comparisons, 'purple is the new black this year' etc etc.

Wills chose to produce the set in the more exclusive large card format when they did choose to showcase the authors directly, again an indication of their less than 'film star' status.

For the sake of completeness let me mention the series issued by Players in the early part of the 20th century,' Famous Authors and Poets' which can be collected as a narrow or wide version of 20 normal sized cards, either way they are darn tricky to collect. Needless to say this is not a set you bump into every day of the week.

doors of perception are open

Wills, Famous British Authors (AJ Cronin)

Picking a card at random, Aldous Huxley, [nothing is random if you know the formula] famous for " A Brave New World. " although he wrote a good many other words which make you feel virtuous when you read them. I might even read some of them one day.

Being drugged out of his tree no doubt improved his imaginative process. Most of us get to a point in our creative careers when we realize that so much substance abuse would be needed to become another Aldous that it might be better to stick to accounting afterall.

From 1937 Aldous lived in the U.S. where he wrote 'Ape and Essence' [1948] which makes Brave New World look like a positive utopian ideal in comparison.

The cards are really well produced the subject taking center stage, their image bleeding into the white background of the card. Each of the authors also have a signature on the card along with their printed name.

The subjects are clearly aware of the publicity aspect of the exercise and appear to have taken great pains to compose their features properly.

The great G.K Chesterton seems to have perfected the 'bulldog' wearing a pair of wire-rimmed glasses appearance whereas others such as A.J Cronin seem to have found some sort of intellectual paradise in the middle distance. Either that or he is enjoying a mint.

doctor doctor

The medical profession obviously has some sort of in-built literary gene...

The medical profession obviously has some sort of in-built literary gene (or better access to drugs than the rest of us) even if the writing is illegible. Somerset Maugham abandoned himself to writing whilst still a medical student. Francis Brett Young practiced medicine in Devon and later served in German East Africa during the First World War before being invalided out. He was to write over 30 best-sellers.

G.K Chesterton was also an illustrator of some ability choosing to illustrate his own books and quite often those of Hilaire Belloc, which gives a nice oblique connection between two cards in a series dedicated to wordsmiths, it might come in useful one day on those quizes that get sprung on people from time to time. Either that or spring this knowledge on someone.

A.J Cronin
The career of this famous novelist provides another instance of success in the literary world attained by a member of the medical profession. Born in 1896, A.J Cronin was educated at Glasgow University. Following a brilliant medical career, in which he took his M.R.C.P (London) and M.D (Honours), he achieved great success as a physician in the West End of London, but in 1930 his desire to write caused him to abandon medicine for literature. He retired to the Highlands of Scotland, and in three months wrote 'Hatter's Castle', which achieved an immediate international success. Since then Dr. Cronin has consolidated his reputation as a novelist, and his works have been translated into ten different languages, including Japanese. Other well-known books of his include, 'Three Loves', 'Grand canary' and 'The Stars Look Down'.

John Buchan is in this series who is probably better known for the films of his book ' The thirty-nine steps' rather than the words he wrote.

Later he was to become Baron Tweedsmuir, the Governor-General of Canada. He also wrote a strange tale of mental time travel, " The Gap in the Curtain.'

the bottomless wells

Now I have mentioned time-travel with the next breath H.G Wells has to be announced. At this point let me confess to being something of a fan.

Science-fiction writing has been through many stages of development but Wells can be considered one of its greatest writers. My interest in the fellow even surviving an English course where I had to read ' The history of Mr. Polly.'

The sheer weight of words that the man managed to produce in his career is worthy of note and that so many of them are worth reading is impressive. Again much of his work has been pushed through the mincing machine of film and television. He has been credited with predicting the use of much in modern warfare.

Wells wrote a number of filmscripts but few actually made it to the screen. Perhaps, though his most famous creation, " War of the Worlds " was at its best as the radio play which caused some consternation in the U.S. a year after this set was produced.

run from the building with wet towels over their heads...

Any adaptation of a book that can get the entire population out of a block of flats in Newark, New Jersey to run from the building with wet towels over their heads as gas masks is a winner in my book. I am in awe of the fellow so best I move on.

P.G Wodehouse also appears in the set. 1937 is a year the great man could be included in a set of British cigarette cards without causing bitterness. A writer of great comedy he rather blotted his copy book during the Second World War.

After the war he chose to live in the U.S. In 1975 Britain him forgave him and was created a K.B.E. He died the same year.

Although the horrors of the Second World War were in the not to distant future when this set was issued the tragedy of the First World War was still fresh in the memory. So far I have only mentioned one woman from this series, and that was to be sarcastic and be able to amaze you with trivia, as Voltaire might have said,' The secret of being a bore is to leave nothing out.' The exact wording depending on the particular translation you happen to read, which neatly proves the point.

war stories

Storm Jameson was a journalist and novelist whose short autobiography " No time like the Present " was described as " the finest piece of pamphleteering against war that has been written in our time.", pity it was not more widely read then I suppose.

The first woman to gain a degree from Leeds University in 1912, she only died in 1986..

It was a subject close to her heart. In 1936 she wrote " In the Second Year. " in which she postulated a fascist U.K. Later in 1942 she wrote " Then We Shall Hear Singing " in which she writes about a victorious German Reich dominating an unnamed country but still incapable of subduing the spirit of the nation. In 1949 she writes of a U.K. under communist rule. The first woman to gain a degree from Leeds University in 1912, she only died in 1986.

Ian Hay (Major John Hay Beith to his troops) was awarded the Military Cross in World War One and his book, " The First Hundred Thousand " was one of the first books dealing with the realities of life on the Western Front.

Sir Philip Gibbs was also at the Western Front as a war correspondent, it was this work that led to his knighthood, he is in this set because he managed to write some rather good books in-between his other writing assignments.

Moving slightly off-target 'Sapper' also known as Lt-Col Cyril McNeile gave the world "Bulldog Drummond" which gave many a small boy hours of listening fun on the radio. The Wills set was issued Aug.1937 which was the month that 'Sapper' died.

There, perhaps, represents a natural end of this article on this most interesting and all but unique set of cards. I have not covered all the authors in this series as to do so would be very Voltaire.