This month I started by sorting out some letters. As part of that I found a set of correspondence between Dr Donaldson and Richard D. Jackson who has undertaken a lot of research into Crockett, specifically his letters and biographical historical detail. That led me to get in touch with Mr Jackson, and we’ve started corresponding. More of that anon.
I have got the archives letters loosely categorised in years. The difficulty of working through a set of correspondence without getting side-tracked and diverted was only made easier by the difficulty of reading the handwriting, so while I’ve got them bundled up in year order, I can’t say I’ve gone into depth as to the contents. But there is a letter to Crockett from Whistler! And some interesting letters from his Uncle in Canada as well as letters written by Crockett himself to a variety of people. Not as many as I’d like of course, not comprehensive enough to give a bigger picture. But I believe Mr Jackson has more in his archive and he’s happy for me to access what I need – our main problem is time and distance.
And letters present something of a problem. They can be very revealing but also only tell one side, and bits of a story. But the real problem is that of copyright. I’ve been doing some delving into this. As far as I can work out, the copyright of a letter remains with the writer of the letter. This shouldn’t present a problem with Crockett’s personal correspondence, however there is correspondence which is a bit trickier… the many letters and contracts between Crockett and his agent, his agent and his publishers (especially the correspondence between Crockett’s agent A.P.Watt and his publisher Hodder & Stoughton. Mr Jackson did a lot of work in this area in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s – spending quite a bit of money and time tracking down the T.Fisher Unwin Archive and The A.P.Watt archive, or specifically the parts of these archives relating to S.R.Crockett. The problem? These collections are held by academic institutions and libraries, who therefore ‘own’ them, and dictate anyone wanting to use these letters is expected to pay for the privilege. This riles me. They won’t publish them themselves, the best you can do is find some microfiche information for ‘research’ purposes, but try to bring the information into the general arena and you’re expected to pay for the privilege. I think that’s so wrong. I don’t have the money to fight this battle at present.
However, it does stick in my craw that people who don’t feel Crockett is worthy of any real research will hang onto information about him and only see its value as something to sell. I’m seriously at odds with this as a cultural or financial view of things. We’ll never know everything about Crockett, the best we ever can come up with is an educated guess based on evidence gathered from research (and as much from primary source as possible) and I don’t think this should be mediated by the power to pay. I think it should be available to all. So I’m looking for ways round the problem. But I don’t expect there are easy solutions. My position is that the more information we can get out there into the public arena the more chance there is that people will discover things about S.R.Crockett which may enable us to see him and his work in a fuller context.
While delving in the archive though, I came across something that I can share with you this month. It’s a ‘lost’ Crockett if you like. It’s the first part of a serial written in 1914 (and so the last serial that Crockett wrote) called Peter the Renegade. You can read Episode One HERE. It was published in The Grand Magazine (a publication long since disappeared – may not even be languishing in a library anywhere!) and the ‘blurb about it said:
This fine series of stories of the Peninsular War was the last work of the later Mr S.R.Crockett. The Peninsular War is a subject in which Mr Crockett was particularly well informed, and we know that he underook the writing of these stories for the Grand Magazine with pleasure and zest. The series is based upon the exploits of a soldier who, deserting from Sir John Moore’s army, placed himself in command of one of the Spanish guerrilla bands, and on many occasion, helped to turn the tide of battle in favour of British arms.
When I first read ‘Scout Master of the Fourth’ I thought it was going to be some school story… how wrong was I? It’s like a very early ‘Sharpe’ I suppose. I have thus far tracked down the first two episodes. I believe six were published before Crockett’s death. I’m on the case looking for the missing four. That’s the thing with Crockett, one thing leads to another, and another and…
Next month I’ll be back with more thoughts on publishing and specifically my foray into the relationship between Crockett, A.P.Watt and Hodder & Stoughton. I’ve had a cursory look at the contracts and there’s a lot of interesting things to be gleaned from documents which are on the face of it fundamentally dull as ditch water (as is the nature of legal contracts!) I’m sure you’ll be on the edge of your seats till then!