(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.