In Eric Partridge’s 1931 miscellany A Martial Medley, which I mentioned the other day, there is a shortish essay by Conal O’Riordan, an Irish novelist previously unknown to me. It is called ‘One More Fortunate’, and is intended as a memoir of Wifred Owen. The essay begins with a long passage about the author’s own life and opinions, but then the physical description of Owen is promising:
I cannot tell the dates on which I saw Wilfred Owen first or last. But I know that he paid me his first visit about tea-time on a sunny day in early September, 1918, and he was gone again up the line before the month was out. But while he was at the base, he must have come to see me almost every day. So it is that I see so clearly his charming face; a child’s, despite the tiny moustache, smiling at me in the sunlight or under the rays of the swinging lamp he would light for me when I drew the curtains at evenfall. Although he must have been in his twenty-sixth year (the age of Major Bonaparte at Toulon), he seemed quite the youngest officer who came my way — save only certain infants of the Air Force, who prattled in all innocence of abominable havoc they had wrought, as if German men and women were not human beings, but rather comical Aunt Sallies.
You will notice that O’Riordan has already slipped away from the subject of Owen, and he continues to do so throughout the essay. He tells us something of Owen’s opinions, in broad, rather caricatured terms:
…he confessed himself to me deeply bitten by the heresy that 360 the Germans, however grievously to blame, were no more so than ourselves and our allies, if even so much could be claimed. I like to think that I helped to clear his mind of this perilous matter, pointing out that if I, who had so little reason to sympathise with the English Government (which had fatuously done to death certain of my most admired friends), yet felt it morally incumbent on me to throw my groat’s worth of force against the crazy beast Hohenzollernism then mangling civilisation…
He quotes a letter from Owen to Sassoon, published in Blunden’s edition:
At the base I met O’Riordan. . . . A troll of a man. . . . It was easy, and, as I reflect, inevitable, to tell him everything about oneself.
But what Owen told him he seems hardly able to remember, being considerably more interested in what he told Owen.
A disappointment, as the editor, Eric Partridge, must have realised. Maybe significant, though, that even so fragmentary a memory of Owen should have been thought well worth publishing in 1931.
The whole essay is actually online here.