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George Allan England: A 1923 Newspaper Interview

by Archie Kilpatrick

While searching the Internet for background information on George Allan England, I stumbled across a full-page reproduction of a newspaper article/interview from an unknown date. What interested me most about the image was that it contained a verifiable photograph of England, something that has eluded me for quite some time.

I wrote to the person who had posted the image and was quite pleased to make the acquaintance of Richard Howie, who lives in Austin, Texas. Richard is a self-described historian and family genealogist who has spent many years researching the history of his family. As it turns out, Rich is a second cousin of England and discovered the newspaper article while going through the voluminous papers left by his grand-uncle, Gordon England, who was also an author.

When I first began to peruse the article, I thought it was going to be a fluff piece—what with the talk of picnics and chopping wood. Once the setting of the interview is established, however, there is a wealth of information revealed about England and his working methods that I have never seen before and, I would wager, you will find relevatory as well.

There are a couple of questions raised during the course of the piece and we have addressed these points in an Afterword; however, we would suggest you read the full article first.

Whether you are new to the work of George Allan England, or a veteran reader, we hope you will enjoy this insight into his world.

Bob Gay
October, 2014
Introduction © 2014 by Bob Gay
Editor's Note: As a general rule, newspapers are presented in columns: a layout style that doesn't yet work consistently through all the varied devices we now use to view web pages. In the interests of readability, we have abandoned the use of columns and have only done some slight formatting to mimic a newspaper layout in the first part of the article. We have also moved some elements of the original layout around and added a few touches of our own. The piece, as originally published, was rather dreadfully edited and we have taken the liberty of correcting the many misspellings that occurred in the original, without inserting any indication of the changes that were made, and have retained the quotation marks around titles as they appeared in the original.

George Allan England
Makes Granite State His Home
england-in-artic-garb-redux
George Allan England, famous writer, in Arctic garb.
Noted Author
Thinks Site
of Camp Ideal
Well Known Writer Tells Why
He Plans To Make Granite
State His Home

'Keeping at It'
Mr. England's
Only Slogan
Keeping Eternally At It His
Slogan And Advice

BY ARCHIE KILPATRICK

ONE of America's best known and best-liked authors, George Allan England has left Massachusetts for New Hampshire and plans to make this state his permanent home. Here's the story!

When I called at Camp Sans Souci on the beautiful shores of Lake Massasacum, Bradford—Camp Sans Souci being the summer home that Mr. England has just bought—the author was engaged in the unliterary occupation of sawing wood. He had a regulation bucksaw and was driving it at a good clip through some hard pine. He straightened up his more than six feet, and smiled:

"Great exercise, this. I've sawed a lot of wood, first and last. Nothing beats the bucksaw to counteract long hours at the typewriter."

"This is the way you ‘buck up,’ is it?" I asked.

He laughed assent: and Mrs. England who just then appeared in the dooryard added:

"Allan has to keep the home-fires burning, you know, even if it is Sunday."

"You're pretty good with a saw and axe, yourself, Blanche," said he. Turning to me he explained: "My wife can beat me splitting wood any day. She and I have sawed and split a good many cords of wood together. We take vast pride in a good big woodpile. She's my pal and partner in everything, even lumbering!" They both laughed, and it was plain to see theirs was a real home, indeed.

Camp "Free from Care."

If you've forgotten what "Sans Souci" means, brush up on your French—or look at the caption above. The England camp is set high up on the western shores of the lake, and commands a marvelous view of Guild Mountain on the opposite shore. Had I walked from a simple country road up on to the author's spacious veranda and found myself in the Swiss Alps, the transition could not have been more striking; for there lay the lovely lake with the mountain soaring up almost perpendicularly above it, casting a perfect reflection across the placid waters.

camp-sans-souci-redux
Camp Sans Souci, the England home at Lake Massasacum.

"We think this location almost ideal," Mr. England said. "As things look now, we're going to make this our permanent summer headquarters."

"Muff," one of the England quartet of cats, then put in an appearance, for a little petting. The other three are "King Tut," "Snoozer" and "Demon."

While we enjoyed the beauties of Nature all about us, our genial and charming hostess was preparing another and more material feast—this being in the nature of a picnic interview. When I say "we," I mean my family and myself. We all interviewed the Englands, en masse! Mrs. England brought out a lot of good things; and we contributed ice cream and cake; and I'll say that if we had no bananas, we had no bananas today, the omission wasn't noticed. All the time we were having our lunch on that wonderful piazza, I couldn't get the idea out of my head that we were sitting on the observation-platform of a limited going through the Canadian Rockies.

Lunch over, and tobacco burning—just for Mr. England and myself, as he is old-fashioned enough to frown on women smoking and wouldn't let his wife indulge even if she wanted to, which she doesn't—my host took me up into his attic, which is his literary workshop, his "Fiction Factory," he calls it. And there, in the slang phrase, I got an eyeful.

The Fiction Factory.

A wonderful plant it is, for turning out the work that has built up Mr. England's reputation in this and other lands! His workshop is long and narrow, with four windows admitting light and air. At the end overlooking the lake is a big table, strewn with papers and books: and in the middle of the table stands a six-cylinder typewriter, on which he drives at the rate of five or six thousand words of finished "copy" a day. For the past years, Mr. England has spent most of his time at just such a machine, and well he knows how to steer it.

As he sat at his trusty "Rem," a rugged, wiry-appearing man of 46, he looked the part of a hard-working, practical producer of literature. It is plain to see his work wholly absorbs him. The whole workshop bears evidence to it. On shelves surrounding the "fiction factory" are stacked reference-books, clippings bound and arranged in his own practical way, many bound volumes of magazine-stories, a lot of his novels, and innumerable other data of his profession.

Mr. England stretched back in his chair, drew at his pipe, and brushed his thick, iron-gray hair back from his high forehead. He fixed on me his blue eyes, that in their depths hide the creative story sense of humor, pathos and insight that combine in his work.

"My being a writer was something of an accident," he began. "Of course, I have always been writing, but the instinct might have turned to other lines. When I was in Harvard, I edited the 'Harvard Illustrated Magazine,' and used to write college news for the Boston papers. And in my senior year I got the first prize of 500 francs offered by a Paris paper for the best translation of a poem, 'La Course des Grands Masques.' I also took the first Bowdoin prize of $250 for my essay on 'Literary and Feministic Influences of Petrarchism.' Still I might never have gone in for fiction if I hadn't been driven to it by seeming disaster.

"My health was undermined by my having to work my way through college, tutoring the sons of the rich; also by working night and day to get a Phi Beta Kappa and Master of Arts degree, as well as a Bachelor of Arts. So that when I went to New York, to take charge of the publicity department of the Mutual Life Insurance Company, I was rather run down.

"Tuberculosis soon developed, and I had to give up work and go into the Maine woods. Two years of roughing it restored my health, but roughing it doesn't earn any money, so I plugged into fiction-writing; and never shall I forget the exultation of my first story check—$100 for a story sent to Collier's. That was nearly 20 years ago, and since then I have been steadily writing fiction, and have sold everything I've ever written.

"My motto then, as now, was: 'Stick to it will do it.' I was surrounded by discouragements, living with backward, illiterate people, crude and ignorant. Imagine the contrast, going from Harvard and from New York City, to associate with such barbarians; people who mocked and sneered. However, I kept on. That's really the only way to do; just know you're right, and 'Stick to it.' That in the end will always win out. And incidentally, some day I am going to write a book giving the experiences of a city chap going to live among country folk. If that book doesn't make a sensation, I miss my guess."

From those dismal days, to the comfort of this cozy home with plenty of friends and success is a long, long trail; but Mr. England has kept grit on the rail and has made the grade, and here he is, with about all a man can wish for. Had he not had the will, the abysmal grim determination never to stay down, he might have had a far different life-history. As it is, he is on the highroad to even larger success, and it seems as if nothing but death could stop him. He has sold stories to every magazine of any importance in the country, and the demand is now far ahead of even his 'fiction factory.'

He is about a year behind now, on orders; has turned down a number of commissions, from lack of time to fill them; and is getting as much for a single story now, as in the early days he would have got for half a dozen or a dozen. His work in the "Saturday Evening Post," where he has had a number of stories and articles, shows that he is now near the top of the ladder.

After a pause, I heard him say from behind a cloud of tobacco smoke: "There is no despondency in which, after it has passed, you can't find something laughable. And no misery or hardship or disappointment exists, that you can't sooner or later turn into stories, and cash. I have capitalized all my hard times, and eventually expect to use in story form every trouble and disaster that has ever come to me."

I confess I had never talked with just such a man as George Allan England. Life has handed him some pretty hard wallops, but I defy anybody to find any hint of despondency in his writings.

How He Works.

fishing-at-st-pierre-test-2-redux
Fishing at St. Pierre.

"What are your working hours?" I asked.

"Oh, I usually get up about five and get in work by six or half-past, and write til nearly noon. Early morning's the time to turn out copy! Then everything is dew-dripped and cool and sweet, before the sun rides high and the world awakes. I tell you a pipe tastes good, early in the morning, and the old typewriter surely can rattle!

"At noon I have a good go at the woodpile; and then lunch, and a smoke and rest; and after that tackle the job again till about four, when we row down to the 'Sand Shore' and have a swim. I'm a wonderful swimmer, I can swim 44 strokes before sinking to the bottom. My wife can swim 45. I am now in training to beat her, and hope to do 46 before the lake freezes.

"In the evening, we take a spin in our car, or work in our garden, which measures about seven feet by eleven. Sometimes, though, we have to work at manuscript evenings. Just now, we're having a spell of evening work."

"We?" I asked. "So your wife helps you?"

"I should say so!" he emphatically replied. "I don't know what I'd do without her. She has her own typewriter, and turns out a big lot of copy for me. Just now she is copying my novel, 'The White Wilderness,' for book publication after its magazine run in 'People's.' She can do more and better work than most professional stenographers. Of course I pay her just as I would any assistant, which is the only way to do. A wife should have her own independent money; her allowance, plus what she earns. That's one of the secrets of being 'happy though married.' Another thing is for husband and wife to share everything, especially trips. My wife has been in various countries with me, on hiking tours. Once we walked through The Land of Evangeline together, and once she went to Newfoundland and roughed it with me there. Never leave your wife behind, when traveling, is a good motto. But it depends on the wife, of course. She must be a good walker, and ready to rough it if necessary. And that, after all, is the only kind of wife to have. One of the great secrets of success is in getting the right wife."

Has Many Books.

"Quite right," I agreed. "But speaking of writing, Mr. England, don't you have off-days, when you don't feel like turning out copy?"

"Never, if I am well," he answered with characteristic force. "My work is my play, and I'm always so deep in it that it's my very life. It's a sort of perpetual motion, seven days a week, the year through. I'm always taking notes and making observation, building up vocabulary, adding to my stock-in-trade. The result is—well, these!"

He pointed to his shelf of books, all bearing his name on the back. He has had a formidable lot of novels and books published. The more important ones are "Underneath the Bough" (poems); "Darkness and Dawn"; "The Alibi"; "Their Son"; and "The Necklace" (two Spanish translations); "The Golden Blight"; "The Air Trust"; "The Gift Supreme"; "Pod, Bender and Co."; "Cursed"; "The Story of the Appeal"; and "The Flying Legion." Just now he is working on "The Crimson North," and account of his experiences as a foremost-hand on board the historic old "Terra Nova," in which he recently went seal-hunting in the Arctic ice. This book, illustrated by his own photographs and sketches, will be issued soon by Doubleday, Page and Co.

In addition to these books, a number of his stories have been produced on the screen, with Seena Owen, Dustin Farnum and Lon Chaney in leading roles. Mr. England's experiences in traveling from the tropics to the Arctic, and from east to west, have been of great value in the making of picture-plays. He has just sold one entitled "One Pebble," soon to be produced. This branch of work he calls "velvet," and always welcomes a "movie sale."

Many of Mr. England's stories have been printed in English editions or in translations into French, Italian, Danish, Finnish and other languages. He is always getting letters from odd places, even as far as China and Australia, about his work; and once an insane man wrote him. He prizes this curious letter as a real work of art. Sometime, when writing a story about a lunatic, he is going to use this unique bit of literature. Everything has to help.

System and Strings.

"With all this mass of story-material," I asked, "don't you ever mislay data?"

"Sometimes, but not often," he answered. "I used to, constantly, and so have been forced to invent this system of filing-cabinets, envelopes, boxes and—strings!" He laughed. "Now I can generally pick up anything I want. See these strings of mine?"

I nodded, and I remembered wondering what they could be for.

"Well, sir," and his blue eyes smiled, "these strings are real live-savers. I use them to keep my tools handy. One string is anchored to my dictionary, another to my scissors, another to my manuscript-record book, and so on. And these, overhead—on these I hang my big sheets of brown paper all pasted over with my local-color and dialect-notes, for every story. As fast as the material is used, I tear it off, and so do not repeat it. Some idea, eh? Not patented. Use it, and welcome. I can assure you it works!"

"It does," added his wife, just then peeping into the den, "unless he happens to get his strings crossed! Allan has a perfect mania for tying things. His note books, eraser, and everything has a string on it. He even keeps a pad and pencil hung to the head of the bed, so that when he wakes up in the night with a story-idea, he can write it down and not forget it."

"And if Coleridge had had the same," added Mr. England, "the last half of 'Kubla Khan' wouldn't have been lost forever!"

After all, string may have its literary merit.

Success Means Perspiration.

"Keeping eternally at it, and never quitting," said he, "are the secrets of literary success. All this talk about inspiration, and waiting for the purple mood, makes me sick. Dig. That's the secret of it. Observe, learn, remember, and work! Write, write, write! And never say die. It is impossible to beat that combination."

Mr. England pointed to some drawings on the wall.

"Why, I have even taught myself to draw well enough to illustrate some of my articles," said he. "I know my drawings are pretty punk, but I manage to sell 'em; and the editors themselves admit that Michelangelo never did anything at all like 'em."

He has a daughter, Isabelle—age 18—who gives promise of being an artist. Some of her drawings are very creditable. Miss Isabelle has just graduated from high school, and spent the summer in Maine. She holds a Carnegie medal for having saved a girl from drowning, and gives evidence of ability as a writer. Perhaps in time her father may find her a rival!

The sum total of Mr. England's production, in novels, short stories, photo-plays, poems, essays, translations and other forms of literary work, would read like a library catalogue. Space prohibits giving it. He is still in the full drive of his production, and hopes to go on for many years, turning out stories for the amusement and edification of mankind—good, lively, human stories, without any very didactic tendency, but always subtly trying to teach progressive ideas and help free the world from the wretched slavery that the capitalist system of competition and war-making has fastened on it. A Nebraskan by birth, he is a New Englander by adoption: and after having lived all over New England, he has at last chosen New Hampshire as the most beautiful state in the Union, the most conducive to his work. He has come up into the free, everlasting hills to labor and dwell.

Just as a specimen of Mr. England's verse, I append this spirited poem, which has been widely reprinted all over the country. It was written in the Arctic ice-fields in a blizzard aboard Scott's and Shackleton's old ship, the "Terra Nova:"

The Sealers of Newfoundland.

Ho! We be the Sealers of Newfoundland!
We clear from a snowy shore,
Out into the gale with our stem and sail,
Where tempest and tumult roar.
We battle the floe as we northward go,
North, from a frozen strand!
Through lead, through bay, we battle our way,
We Sealers of Newfoundland!

Yea, we be the Sealers of Newfoundland!
We laugh at the blinding dark;
We mock the wind, as we fling behind
The wilderness hoar and stark.
We jest at death, at the icy breath
Of the Pole, by the north-lights spanned.
In a wild Death-dance we dice with Chance;
We Sealers of Newfoundland!

Sealers, ho Sealers of Newfoundland,
With engines begrimed and racked,
With groaning beams where the blue ice gleams,
We push through the growlers packed.
With rifle, with knife we press our strife,
What lubber shall understand
The war we fight in the ghostly light?
Aye, Sealers of Newfoundland!

The ice glows red where our skin-boots tread,
And crimson the gleaming floes.
From mast we 'scun' till our race be run,
Where the Labrador current goes.
From ship we spring to the pans that swing;
By stalwarts our deck is manned.
O'er the blood-red road the sculps are towed
By the Sealers of Newfoundland!

Oh, some may sail with a southern gale;
Some may fare east or west.
The North is ours, where the white storm lowers,
Wild North that we love the best!
O North, we ken that ye make us men;
Your glory our eyes have scanned,
Hard men we be, of the Frozen Sea,
We Sealers of Newfoundland!

Bitterly bold through the stinging cold
We vanquish the naked North.
We make our kill with an iron will,
Where the great white cold stalks forth.
"On ward!" we cry, where the bare bergs lie,
Dauntless our course if planned.
With blood, with sweat, scant bread we get,
We Sealers of Newfoundland!

"Starb'rd!" and "Steady!" and "Port!" we steer;
Press on through the grinding pan!
We labor and muck for a fling at luck,
Each man of us, God! a man!
We cheer at the bawl of the white-coats all,
We labor with knife and hand
With rope and gaff. At the North we laugh,
We Sealers of Newfoundland!

Where the old dog-hood and the old harps' brood
Lie out on the raftered pack
We tally our prey. Then away and away,
Men, Ho for the homeward track!
Till the day dawn near when a welcome cheer
Shall greet us, as red we stand
On the decks that come to our island home
We Sealers of Newfoundland!

Afterword

Now that you have read the article, there are a couple of final bits of business that need to be covered. To wit:

Setting the date of this interview as 1923 is, at best, a guess. The newspaper page contains no dates of any sort and the only clues we have been able to discern are within the body of the interview itself. England's age is give as 46 within the piece and, since all sources agree that he was born in 1877, we arrived at the date of 1923. Second, is the mention of "The Crimson North," a book that would appear in 1924 as Vikings of the Ice: Being the Log of a Tenderfoot on the Great Newfoundland Seal Hunt. England went on the seal hunting expedition in 1922 and two articles about his experiences were printed in The Saturday Evening Post in September of that same year, so it is not a stretch to assume he was preparing the full book for publication in 1923. In fact, the mention of Camp Sans Souci being a summer home, and the activities described in the article, would even suggest that the interview was conducted in the summer of 1923.

England's wife Blanche was the former Blanche Mildred Porter, who, I am informed by Richard, married England on July 26, 1921. Daughter Isabelle, known within the family as "Tiz," was the offspring of England's first marriage and passed away in 1985.

England's assertion that he sold his first story to Collier's for $100 "nearly 20 years ago" presented a bit of a mystery. The earliest work listed in the main Contento indexes is a poem that appeared in the April, 1904 issue of The Smart Set, with no mention of any story appearances in Collier's. The only reference that we could find that tied England to Collier's was in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, where a single story, "June 6, 2016" is cited as having appeared in the April 22, 1916 issue of Collier's Weekly.

After lot of Internet sleuthing, however, we were able to uncover this long lost story and find that it appeared in the January 14, 1905 of Collier's The National Weekly: a full four months before the previously assumed "first" story, "The Battle of Wooly Field," appeared in the April, 1905 issue of Leslie's Monthly Magazine. We have reprinted this earlier Collier's story and it can be found here: "Sessions and the Steam-Coal."

A quick check of the IMDB shows that there are three films listed that credit England as the source of their stories.

  • The earliest, released in 1916, was an adaptation of England's 1916 novel, The Alibi and appeared under the same name. The star of the film, James Morrison, is not listed in the interview.
  • Next was The Brass Check, released in 1918, from a serialized work of the same name (the exact length is unknown) that began in the April 29, 1916 issue of All-Story Weekly. Surprisingly, the article doesn't mention that the film starred Francis X. Bushman, a very prominent star in the 20s.
  • The third film was a 1920 release, The Gift Supreme. This film was derived from a six part serial of the same name that ran in Munsey's Magazine from January through June of 1917. The film starred Seena Owen and also included Lon Chaney, although he was not the star of the film and only received sixth billing.
  • Lastly, we were unable to find any film that ties England and Dustin Farnum, nor does Farnum appear in any of the films listed in the article. There is also no record of "One Pebble" having been made into a film, although the short story appeared in People's Story Magazine for Feb. 25, 1922.

As a final note, we have no idea of when, or exactly where, the photo captioned "Fishing at St. Pierre" originated, as there is no reference to it in the interview. It may have been taken on the island of St. Pierre, which is just south of Newfoundland. As England spent most of his adult life in the north Eastern portion of the US, it is not a stretch to suggest that he may have gone on some fishing trips to this region, although there are a number of "St. Pierres" around the world and England was an avid traveler. The picture is captioned just as it appeared in the original newspaper appearance, and one wishes that there had been some identification as to who is pictured in the photo, which might have helped with identifying the actual location.

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