The first Fireside Book of David Hope (“A picture and a poem for every mood, chosen by David Hope”) was printed and published by D C Thomson & Co Ltd (Dundee and London). The copy which L owns and treasures has “Christmas 1967” hand-written inside the front cover, although the book itself is not dated. This copy (below) came into the TVC household decades after its birth, when P found it in a second-hand bookshop.
Our very first Fireside Book was given to L for Christmas 1972. The dust jacket of this 1973 edition tells how well-loved it has been. It has been admired, treasured and memorised.
How evocative those images are – they were the cultured, fairyland England of my childhood imagination –
Some of these poems are in my mind to this day. “Deep in heaven now I lie, while the white clouds billow by…”
Although I was given one or two more of these precious tomes during my childhood – I remember having a library full – years later, as an adult, I found an issue which I didn’t have. Then P discovered a few. One day he came home with an astonishing pile hidden behind his back.
“England” to me then was the numinous, the picturesque, Oxford, the past and the future. Fay Inchfawn, John Betjeman, Eleanor Farjeon, Edna Jaques – these great invokers of an England which never existed wrote these poems for me, and artists unknown illustrated them. Themes emerge across the years – the allure of the wild hills, the longing of a urbanite for the countryside, the cosy home on a cold night.
I felt an occasional jolt when I learnt that a poem which I thought belonged exclusively in my Fireside books, is owned by the world –
The books even granted me a glimpse of my future husband –
Every month (April is a favourite) and season (autumn rules) has its poems. Deer, robin redbreasts and snow are essential to the Christmas illustrations. Cricket (“The Game that’s Never Done” – how true), lawnbowls, gardening, visiting, rambling, gazing about in a pensive manner, reading and sailing are our pastimes. Jody the tabby kitten, Hamish the Scotch terrier (who is chasing rabbits in heaven) and faithful horses are our friends.
My initial reluctance to look at the later editions when they came into my hands was, sadly, justified. The nostalgic, pretty sentiment of The Fireside Books of the 70s and 80s has almost entirely gone but its replacements are not improvements.
Some changes are laudable – by 1996 an index has appeared (although it is ugly) and some of the artists are named (although others are communally referred to as ‘staff artists’). By 2008 the Fireside Books are no longer “of David Hope”.
As early as 1989, there are occasional odd touches. The readership seems to be changing – brides have become grandmothers, shining up one’s cosy home is now just a lot of housework and melancholic musing gives way to bereavement; although surely not even a grieving stair-scrubbing nanna would accept that the “shy” Regency Place goes wandering off at night…
When the air is cool and the moon is bright,
Regency Place will stealthily glide
Away to the sleeping countryside;
Return it will, by a secret lane,
To its native fields and streams again.”
That’s not to say that the earlier artwork was always terrific. In 1982 these lumpen freaks represented The Girls of Donegal, fairer than those of all Ireland and North America –
…and this picture was used not once but twice (1974 and 1977)…
There was this chap in 1983…
For all their twee silliness, The Fireside Books before a certain date are worth 5 stars for their sense of the profound, their attention to detail and their beauty. Hope is not lost. The TVC collection is not complete. Volumes from the 1970s and 1980s wait out there for us and when we find them, the nostalgia will be real.