Item #2163 The Goshawk. T. H. WHITE, TERENCE HANBURY WHITE.
The Goshawk
The Goshawk
The Goshawk
The Goshawk
The Goshawk

The Goshawk

“I had two books on the training of the falconidae in one of which was a sentence which suddenly struck fire from my mind. The sentence was: ‘She reverted to a feral state.’ A longing came into my mind that I should be able to do this myself. The word ‘feral’ has a magical potency which allied itself to two other words, ‘ferocious’ and ‘free.’ To revert to a feral state! I took a farm-labourer’s cottage and wrote to Germany for a goshawk.” — T.H. White, quoted in Sylvia Warner Townsend’s biography

“‘I have been writing a book about falconry and trying to train a goshawk,’ T.H. White wrote to his friend and former Cambridge Tutor L.J. Potts in 1936. He concluded gloomily that ‘nobody will read the book.’ In this he was mistaken. Today The Goshawk is regarded as a literary classic, considered by [many] to be White’s finest work. Alternately beautiful, savage, cruel, funny, tender and tragic, this diary of a hawk’s education is the story of two desperate and confused souls operating at dreadful cross-purposes.” — Helen Macdonald


T.H. White is best known for his magnificent re-telling of the Arthurian saga in his Once and Future King tetralogy — The Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind. His life — as described by his biographer Sylvia Warner Townsend, and more recently in Helen Macdonald’s prize-winning memoir H is for Hawk — was a sad one. He was a heavy drinker, pathologically fearful, estranged from humanity, emotionally crippled by a turbulent upbringing, troubled by dark sado-masochistic fantasies, and isolated, in a homophobic era, by his (likely) homosexuality. As an adult, he attempted to exorcise his demons through psychoanalysis; by attempting to model himself on Sir Lancelot, “whose character White made his own” (“Lancelot was a sadist who refrained from hurting people through his sense of honour... White always took great pains to be gentle precisely because he wanted to be cruel”); and by his efforts to train a hawk, described in the book offered here. (MacDonald).

“All those elements of himself that he’d pushed away, his sexuality, his desire for cruelty, for mastery: all these were suddenly there in the figure of the hawk... He would train it... He would teach the hawk, and he would teach himself, and he would write a book about it and teach his readers this doomed and ancient art. It was as if he were holding aloft the flag of some long-defeated country to which he staked his allegiance. He’d train his hawk in the ruins of his former life. And then when the war came, as it surely would, and everything around him crumbled into ruin and anarchy, White would fly his goshawk... far from the bitter, sexual confusion of the metropolis or the small wars of the schoolroom” (Macdonald).

The project did not go well — the goshawk escaped — and White abandoned his plans to publish an account of the training. However, years later a publisher saw the manuscript and asked White if he could publish it. The Goshawk finally appeared in 1951.

On White’s relationship to Sydney Cockerell:

One of the bright spots that punctuated White’s gloomy life was his warm friendship with Sydney Cockerell, who was, in the words of Noel Perrin, “one of the few human beings the author of The Once and Future King had much use for.” Cockerell was a connoisseur, a bibliophile, and the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, of which he famously said, “I found it a pigsty; I turned it into a palace.” ”The collections and buildings were not just rearranged but much augmented... [and] his success was recognized by the award of an honorary LittD in 1930... [and] he was knighted in 1934” (Dictionary of National Biography).

White and Cockerell first encountered each other — if that is the right word — anonymously and at a distance. In a November 1944 letter, White recalled the incident to Cockerell: “Shall I startle you into answering by confessing something which has been on my conscience for eighteen years? Cast your mind back to the extension of the Fitzwilliam Museum, and you will probably remember that the ‘Cambridge Correspondent’ of the then Saturday Review made some nasty remarks about the pilasters of your godchild. You crushed that correspondent by some excellent replies in which you cruelly referred to him as ‘he or she’ and he or she made exit crawling backwards mumbling. He or she was me.” Whether or not Cockerell ever knew the “Cambridge Correspondent’s” identity until White spilled the beans in 1944, the two later met face to face in Siegfried Sassoon’s home. Cockerell “discerned a character he would like to add to his collection of acquaintances, and invited him for a visit to Kew. … In the course of his visit, White was asked to wash his hands; when he had done so he was allowed to examine his host’s treasured manuscripts and early books. The visit included the first of many small bestowings — photographs, postcards, cuttings from catalogues — which Cockerell was to give him” (Warner).

Many of White’s letters to Cockerell are collected in Viola Meynell’s The Best of Friends: Further Letters to Sydney Cockerell). They show White bouncing ideas off of Cockerell for the tale that became The Once and Future King, seeking advice on how to sell an expensive watch, and requesting and receiving information on hawks and hawking, on armor, and on heraldry. In a 1938 letter, he asks Cockerell “Can you tell me what is the proper sign for an illegitimate union in a family tree? I have written a play about King Arthur and I want to print a family tree at the beginning.” The “family tree” that White was apparently referring to — a pedigree of Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred — was later included in The Once and Future King, in a passage at the end of The Queen of Air and Darkness. (“Even if you have to read it twice, like something in a history lesson, this pedigree is a vital part of the tragedy of King Arthur. It is why Sir Thomas Mallory called his very long book the Death of Arthur... It is the tragedy, the Aristotelian and comprehensive tragedy, of sin coming home to roost. That is why we have... to remember, when the time comes, that the king had slept with his own sister. He did not know he was doing so, and perhaps it may have been due to her, but it seems, in tragedy, that innocence is not enough.”)

On the inscription in this first edition of The Goshawk:

A notation on the top of the front free endpaper, apparently in Cockerell’s handwriting, reads “Sydney Cockerell / Kew 25 July 1951 / (from the author).” Below that is a handwritten inscription, above a drawing of an arrow-pierced heart, which reads “Kew / 12.1.58 / Dearest Sydney — I did send you this copy as a present when it came out, but this is the first time I have had a chance to write my love in it, with all my heart. Love from Tim.” Beneath that is a further note: “To Mary Thomas from Sydney Cockerell / 10 Oct. 1960.” An undated note on White’s blue letterhead, stating “Love from Tim,” is laid in.

London: Jonathan Cape, 1951. Octavo, original red cloth, original dust jacket. Book fine, dust jacket spine with slight toning and chipping to spine-ends.

OFFERED WITH: A signed first edition of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (London: Cape 2014), Macondald’s highly-praised and moving memoir discussing her own experiences training a hawk, mingled with her reflections on White, The Goshawk, and the book’s influence on her. H is for Hawk won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

Price: $5,000 .

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