20 January 2014

A Nice Peat Fire

Helen Thomas, A Memory of W. H. Davies (Edinburgh: The Tragara Press, 1973), p. 6:
[W. H. Davies] had heard that literary people burnt peat and felt it incumbent upon himself to do the same. He asked Edward's [i.e. the war poet Edward Thomas] advice about this and where he could store the peat in his tiny flat, and Edward suggested teasingly that he should burn his books and stack the slabs of peat on their edges on the bookshelves! However, he ordered the peat and he was in agony lest it arrive when he was out and give rise to unwanted speculations from the shopkeeper below. So he stayed in day after day. At last the peat arrived and having nowhere else to put it he arranged the slabs as a sort of hearthrug in front of the fireplace, and having settled that to his satisfaction, he was free to go out once more. What was his dismay when returning home one day he found a crowd outside the house, smoke pouring from the windows and people running up and down his staircase. A spark had set his peat alight, and the firemen had entered his room and were busy dowsing it with water; the whole street was interested and excited. This was the nightmare occurrence which Davies dreaded above all others, this intrusion into his privacy, — and that was the end of the peat. After he was content with unpoetic coal. 
Harold Knight, Portrait of W. H. Davies (early 1900s)