H. M. Tomlinson Essay - Critical Essays

Tomlinson, H. M.


H. M. Tomlinson 1873-1958

(Full name Henry Major Tomlinson) English journalist, essayist, travel writer, novelist, and critic.

Esteemed as a perceptive journalist and impassioned correspondent during World War I, Tomlinson wrote numerous books of essays and critically acclaimed novels. All of his works, including his reminiscences and autobiographical sketches, reflect his three overarching passions: England, the love of travel, and his hatred of war.

Biographical Information

Tomlinson was born in Wanstead, Essex, near the docks where his father worked. Raised with an abiding love of the sea, he was obligated after his father's death to help support his family by working in a local office. Encouraged by his mother to read extensively, Tomlinson developed a keen interest in literature. While working as a clerk in a shipping company, he published several articles in local newspapers. His career as a journalist began in 1904 when he was hired by the Morning Leader to cover stories having to do with shipping and seafaring. One assignment, in which he sailed on the first English vessel to travel 2,000 miles up the Amazon river, resulted in his first book, The Sea and the Jungle (1912). With the outbreak of war in 1914, Tomlinson covered the hostilities for the Morning Leader and the Daily News from Belgium and France, sending back sobering reports of brutality and carnage; he was eventually relieved of his correspondent's duties because his writings were determined to be too "humanitarian," that is, not supportive enough of the war effort. After the war, he served as literary editor for the journal the Nation, traveled widely, and wrote essays and novels. He died in London and is buried in a church cemetery near his summer home in Dorset.

Major Works

Tomlinson's best-known work was his first, The Sea and the Jungle. This nonfiction book is a chronicle and vivid description of what he saw during his voyage on the Capella, a tramp steamer that sailed from the mouth of the Amazon river in northeastern Brazil to San Antonio Falls near the Brazil-Bolivia border. The work has been praised for its portrait of the tropical jungle landscape. Old Junk (1918) is a collection of essays on a wide variety of topics, including ships and sailing, life in small fishing villages, and aspects of soldiers' experiences during the First World War. John Lingard described the volume as possessing a "unifying fascination with the revelation of unexpected beauty, value, or even horror, in the apparently banal or everyday." The first book Tomlinson wrote after the war, London River (1921), contains eleven elegiacal essays on life along the Thames and the importance of the river to the people of London. Tomlinson returned to the theme of war in Waiting for Day-light (1922), a collection of essays about his reactions to modern warfare. While many of the pieces do not directly address the war—his topics include the writings of Thomas Carlyle, the figureheads of sailing ships, and travel books—the book's central premise is that the war robbed the world of its innocence, permanently changing the nature of serious discussion on any topic. In Gifts of Fortune and Hints for Those about to Travel (1926) Tomlinson sought to write about those things that can provide solace and wonder in the postwar world. Reviewing this essay collection, D. H. Lawrence wrote that Tomlinson was "a man who sets new visions, new feelings sensitively quivering in us." Tomlinson's first novel, Gallion's Reach: A Romance (1927), is a somewhat autobiographical tale about a young Englishman who works as a clerk for an importing company and yearns for adventure on the high seas. During a business-related quarrel over labor relations, the protagonist, Jim Colet, accidentally kills his boss. The body of the novel concerns Jim's escape aboard the ship Altair, describing its adventurous journey from Rangoon, to Malaya, and back to England. The book was a moderate popular success, and critics generally regarded the descriptive passages as more accomplished than the plot and character development. All Our Yesterdays (1930), Tomlinson's second novel, is a kind of cultural history of England, encompassing the years from the end of the Boer War through 1919. As with Gallion's Reach, critics found the book's strengths to be its extensive expository passages, sections in which Tomlinson discussed the state of English society at the time; the abundance of these pieces, however, is generally believed to weaken the work as a novel. Out of Soundings (1931) is a collection of essays, many of which examine in a critical light various aspects of modernity, or "progress." For example, several essays discuss the deleterious effects on the natural world and on humanity of the movies, cars, and airplanes. Lingard noted that Tomlinson's critiques are "never reactionary, however, and his arguments are often quietly reasonable." While Tomlinson's hatred of war is a recurring motif in almost all of his works—even in those not obviously about the subject, he addresses the theme from a variety of oblique angles—Mars His Idiot (1935) directly presents his views on the matter. However, critics regard this as his weakest book, noting in particular an "uncharacteristic shrillness" in the tone and temper of the prose. Despite his attitudes toward war, Tomlinson supported England's role in the Allied effort during World War II. Referring to Nazi Germany, he wrote in The Wind Is Rising (1941), a book of essays on British life during the war, that an "abominable dominion has to be overcome." A Mingled Yarn: Autobiographical Sketches (1953) is primarily a compilation of previously published essays; it includes four short works of autobiography, one of which is a tribute to his wife, Florence. Tomlinson's last work, published shortly before his death, was The Trumpet Shall Sound (1957), a novel that depicts the effects of World War II on the upper-class Gale family, who are presented as emblems of the larger British society.

Principal Works

The Sea and the Jungle (nonfiction) 1912

Old Junk (essays) 1918

London River (essays) 1921

Waiting for Daylight (essays) 1922

Tidemarks: Some Records of a Journey to the Beaches of the Moluccas and the Forest of Malaya, in 1923 (travel) 1924; also published as Tidemarks, Being Some Records of a Journey to the Beaches of the Moluccas and the Forest of Malaya in 1923

Gifts of Fortune and Hints for Those about to Travel (travel) 1926

Under the Red Ensign (travel) 1926; also published as The Foreshore of England: Or, Under the Red Ensign

Gallion's Reach: A Romance (novel) 1927

Illusion, 1915 (short stories) 1928

Thomas Hardy (criticism) 1929

All Our Yesterdays (novel) 1930

Between the Lines (lectures) 1930

Norman Douglas (criticism) 1931

Out of Soundings (essays and short stories) 1931

The Snows of Helicon (novel) 1933

Mars His Idiot (nonfiction) 1935

Pipe All Hands (novel) 1937; also published as All Hands!

The Day Before: A Romantic Chronicle (novel) 1939

The Wind Is Rising (journal) 1941

The Turn of the Tide (journal) 1945

Morning Light: The Islands in the Days of Oak and Hemp (novel) 1946

The Face of the Earth: With Some Hints for Those about to Travel (essays) 1950

Malay Waters: The Story of Little Ships Coasting Out of Singapore and Penang in Peace and War (nonfiction) 1950

A Mingled Yarn: Autobiographical Sketches (essays) 1953

The Trumpet Shall Sound (novel) 1957


Robert Lynd (essay date 1923)

SOURCE: "Mr. H. M. Tomlinson," in Books and Authors, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1923, pp. 252-59.

[In the following essay, Lynd offers an appreciation of Tomlinson and his works.]

Mr. Tomlinson is a born traveller. There are two sorts of travellers—those who do what they are told and those who do what they please. Mr. Tomlinson has never moved about the world in obedience to a guide-book. He would find it almost as difficult to read a guide-book as to write one. He never echoes other men's curiosity. He travels for the purpose neither of information nor conversation. He has no motive but whim. His imagination goes roaming; and, his imagination and his temper being such as...

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Edmund Blunden (essay date 1925)

SOURCE: "H. M. Tomlinson," in Edmund Blunden: A Selection of His Poetry and Prose, edited by Kenneth Hopkins, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1925, pp. 303-08.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1925, Blunden praises Tomlinson's writing style and ability to evoke landscapes and scenes.]

The author of The Sea and the Jungle has not had his share of the talk about the moderns. Neither personal nor critical studies of H. M. Tomlinson have multiplied, though such things are by no means out of fashion. He himself probably never thinks of this comparative neglect, and would, I believe, respond to an interview with something like Hamlet's "I am too much i' the...

(The entire section is 2171 words.)

J. B. Priestley (essay date 1927)

SOURCE: "H. M. Tomlinson," in Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 3, No. 23, January, 1927, pp. 477-78.

[In the following essay, Priestley praises Tomlinson's realistic portrayal of his travels.]

Most of his readers, perhaps all but the most astute, would be surprised if they met him. There is nothing of the traveler about H. M. Tomlinson. He is not bronzed, hearty, hail-fellow-well-met, nor does he carry with him any suggestion of great distances and strange suns. Yet his appearance, I think, is significant, revealing not a little of his secret. At a first superficial glance, he looks like a rather hard-bitten city clerk. At a second glance, he looks like a gnome, who...

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John Freeman (essay date 1927)

SOURCE: "Mr. H. M. Tomlinson," in London Mercury, Vol. 16, No. 94, August, 1927, pp. 400-08.

[In the following essay, Freeman describes Tomlinson's journeys as portrayed in his writings, particularly The Sea and the Jungle.]


Nothing now is left remarkable, except the flatness of the world; curiosity has destroyed whatever is curious, and invention has overtaken invention until we are fatigued by wonders and retreat into the unfathomably familiar.

It is not Mr. Tomlinson that leads me to talk thus, but the announcement, recently made, that liners are ready to take you a thousand miles up the Amazon into the heart of America....

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Frederick P. Mayer (essay date 1928)

SOURCE: "H. M. Tomlinson: The Eternal Youth," in Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1928, pp. 72-82.

[In the following essay, Mayer disputes the comparison of Tomlinson with Joseph Conrad, noting Tomlinson's unique abilities as a writer.]


Because his book is labeled fiction, H. M. Tomlinson, with the publication of his first novel, Gallions Reach, is gaining fame. Before, Tomlinson, essayist and traveler, enjoyed but a limited distinction. Recently, however, and mainly through Gallions Reach, there has grown a Tomlinson vogue. He has been praised as "a second Conrad."

The truth is,...

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Odell Shepard (essay date 1931)

SOURCE: "In the Great Tradition," in Yale Review, Vol. 20, No. 4, June, 1931, pp. 843-44.

[In the following review of Out of Sounding, Shepard praises Tomlinson's ability to evoke a mood of nostalgia-]

Until one has read halfway through this book [Out of Soundings] one regards it as merely another collection of random essays such as Mr. Tomlinson has given us before and may, if we are lucky, give us again. Gradually there emerges, however, not so much a plan and purpose as a tendency of thought or tone of feeling, perhaps not entirely conscious in the author's mind, which produces at least the unity of mood. By the time the reader lays down the...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

D. H. Lawrence (essay date 1936)

SOURCE: "Review of Books: Gifts of Fortune, by H. M. Tomlinson," in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence, edited by Edward D. McDonald, The Viking Press, 1936, pp. 342-45.

[In the following essay, Lawrence declares Tomlinson to be not a travel writer, but a writer exploring what Lawrence calls "coasts of illusion," meaning travel by mind and soul to a world uncorrupted by disillusionment.]

Gifts of Fortune is not a travel-book. It is not even, as the jacket describes it, a book of travel memories. Travel in this case is a stream of reflections, where images inter-twine with dark thoughts and obscure emotion, and the whole flows on...

(The entire section is 1748 words.)

Helen and Richard Altick (essay date 1943)

SOURCE: "Square-Rigger on a Modern Mission," in College English, Vol. 5, No. 2, November, 1943, pp. 75-80.

[In the following essay, the Alticks discuss Tomlinson as an anti-war writer.]

Henry Major Tomlinson in the era-between-wars was one of those writers against war whom Mr. MacLeish has categorically accused of having contributed much to the so-called "psychological disarmament" of the democracies. History will decide whether eventually he will be sanctified as a passionate but unheeded prophet or assigned a particularly bleak station in the outer darkness as an unwitting but effective saboteur of democratic morale. The results of the present war must first be in,...

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Alva A. Gay (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: "H. M. Tomlinson, Essayist and Traveller," in Studies in Honor of John Wilcox, edited by A. Dayle Wallace with Woodburn O. Ross, Books for Libraries Press, 1958, pp. 209-17.

[In the following essay, Gay discusses Tomlinson's pre-1940 works.]

In 1950 the Londoner, H. M. Tomlinson, journalist, novelist, essayist, traveller, published a collection of essays under the title The Face of the Earth. One wonders to how many of those who chanced upon it the name of its author evoked nostalgic memories of other of his books not reread in years. To most readers born between the 1914 and 1939 wars the name would probably be no more than just that—a name....

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Derek Severn (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "A Minor Master," in London Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 11, February, 1979, pp. 47-58.

[In the following essay, Severn offers a post-centenary appreciation of Tomlinson's work.]

The changes of taste and fashion since the war have suppressed, at least for the time being, a number of distinguished reputations. One thinks, for example, of R. C. Hutchinson, William Gerhardie, Hugh Kingsmill, Forrest Reid and R. B. Cunninghame Graham. H. M. Tomlinson is another of the casualties. His centenary in 1973 passed without notice, and not one of his thirty books is now in print in this country. But he was a writer of singular integrity and individuality who published nothing...

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Further Reading


Alcorn, John. The Nature Novel from Hardy to Lawrence, pp. 53-55. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.

Brief discussion of The Sea and the Jungle in which Alcorn compares it to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902).

Bergonzi, Bernard. Heroes' Twilight: A Study of the Literature of the Great War, pp. 186-89. London: The Macmillan Press, 1980.

Examines Tomlinson's depiction of war in All Our Yesterdays.

Crawford, Fred D. H. M. Tomlinson. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981, 260 p.

Biographical and critical examination of Tomlinson's life and works....

(The entire section is 357 words.)