Tag Archives: Essays

75. “Let us also have fountains – more and more fountains …”: J.B. Priestley’s One Hundred and Fourteen Delights

J.B. Priestley’s Delight (1949) is one of his best-loved and best known books.  A quirky selection box of 114 mini essays, each offering a glimpse of an everyday moment which delighted him.  Altogether they also give a sense of Priestley’s personality, family life, his boyhood in Bradford, and life in the late 1940s.

Front cover of Delight by J.B. Priestley, 1973 Heinemann re-issue

Front cover of Delight by J.B. Priestley, 1973 Heinemann re-issue

The joy of this book is that there are Delights to appeal to everyone.  My own favourites are A walking tour, about the joy of a spring morning in the Dales just after Priestley left the army, Gin and tonic, 1940, which gives a lovely sense of a moment of peace in the pub during the madness of the Blitz, Lawn tennis, and The sound of a football.

Some are famous, such as Fountains, in which Priestley calls for towns and cities to be filled with “fountains – more and more fountains – higher and higher fountains – like wine, like blue and green fire” instead of the “many idiotic things we are given and do not want”.

Some are funny, such as Quietly malicious chairmanship.  Priestley must have sat through many excruciatingly dull meetings to give this insight into how a chairman can ruin an event by pre-empting the speaker’s main point in his introduction, whispering, passing notes, doodling, and taking a cigarette lighter to pieces.

J.B. Priestley addressing an audience, late 1940s, occasion & photographer unknown. Ref: PRI 21/9/24

Accustomed as he was to public speaking … J.B. Priestley addressing an audience, late 1940s, occasion & photographer unknown. Ref: PRI 21/9/24

Some show Priestley’s delight in things one might expect him to like, such as tobacco (Trying new blends, Smoking in hot bath).  Others give new insights into unexpected experiences,  such as the refreshment of Mineral water in bedrooms of foreign hotels, after traipsing round cathedrals etc and drinking too much wine.

The essays often explore the compensations of adulthood: being allowed to wear Long trousers, and No school report, and of age, such as Not going to social events if you don’t want to – he came to realise he wasn’t missing much, and not to care if he did.

 Spine of copy of US edition of Delight (Harper & Brothers, 1949). Book was specially bound for JB and later inscribed by him to Jacquetta Hawkes in 1978 describing it as the most attractive book in his collection

Spine of copy of US edition of Delight (Harper & Brothers, 1949). Book was specially bound for JB and later inscribed by him to Jacquetta Hawkes in 1978 describing it as the most attractive book in his collection

The book has added resonance because it goes against Priestley’s own apparent nature and public image.   As he said in his Preface, or “Grumbler’s Apology”, “I have always been a grumbler”, stemming in part from his Yorkshire background where “to a good West Riding type there is something shameful about praise, that soft Southern trick.  But faultfinding and blame are constant and hearty”.

Naturally, as  a journalist, Priestley often felt compelled to highlight negative things in his essays and broadcasts, speaking for those who could not.  Which might lead readers to complain, as he suggested, “Does this chap never enjoy anything?”.  But of course he did – and Delight beautifully illustrates his talent for evoking positive emotions, especially little bits of happiness, wonder and cosiness in everyday life.

Want to experience Delight for yourself?  It’s in print (60th anniversary edition), plentiful and cheap on the second-hand market, and widely available in public libraries.  If you read it, do let us know your favourite Delight, and if there are modern works (blogs perhaps) which do something similar.

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17. On Bacon, On Gardens, On Science: Our Oldest Book

Bacon's EssayesThis little book is the oldest in Special Collections.  It is a 1639 edition of the Essayes of Sir Francis Bacon.  The essays cover how to behave in public life and are full of quotable aphorisms and good advice on topics such as building a house and travel.  There are also reflections on deeper issues including death, goodness and truth.

Detail of titlepage of Bacon's Essayes

Beginning of Bacon On Gardens from 1639 editionMy personal favourite is the essay On Gardens, in which Bacon advises that the garden should be planned so that each month “severally things of beauty may then be in season”.  He lists by month what would be in flower in London:

“In April follow the double white violet; the wallflower; the stock-gilliflower; the cowslip; flowerdelices, and lilies of all natures; rosemary-flowers; the tulippa; the double peony; the pale daffodil; the French honeysuckle; the cherry-tree in blossom; the damson and plum-trees in blossom; the white thorn in leaf; the lilac-tree …”

Spines of Bacon's worksThere is an important connection between Francis Bacon and Special Collections.  One of Bacon’s most famous works was the utopian New Atlantis, in which a group of sailors blown off course in the South Sea find refuge on an island.  A scientific society known as Salomon’s House, whose aim was “the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible” had transformed agriculture and other activities on the island.

Serbian philosopher Dimitrije Mitrinović, who lived in England from 1914, gathered people to share his vision, which, inspired by Bacon’s book,  he called “New Atlantis”.  The “task is now to review the whole of human past history …  so as to make these live again imaginatively in our present experience; and then to revalue them in relation to one another and to humanity as a whole”.  To this end, Mitrinović and his followers gathered a large library of rare books on philosophy, science, politics, history and much more (including Bacon’s works, shown here), now part of Special Collections.  We also have their Archive, more of which in a later Object.