Letter to Dennis Collings (16 August 1931)

16 August 1931

Dear Dennis,1

I said I would write to you. I haven’t anything of great interest to report yet about the Lower Classes, & am really writing to tell you about a ghost I saw in Walberswick cemetery. I want to get it on paper before I forget the details. See plan below.

Orwell's drawing of the ghost at Walberswick church

George Orwell’s drawing of the ghost in Walberswick cemetery

Above is W’wick church as well as I can remember it. At about 5.20 pm on 27.7.31 I was sitting at the spot marked*, looking out in the direction of the dotted arrow. I happened to glance over my shoulder, & saw a figure pass along the line of the other arrow, disappearing behind the masonry & presumably emerging into the churchyard. I wasn’t looking directly at it & so couldn’t make out more than that it was a man’s figure, small & stooping, & dressed in lightish brown; I should have said a workman. I had the impression that it glanced towards me in passing, but I made out nothing of the features. At the moment of its passing I thought nothing, but a few seconds later it struck me that the figure had made no noise, & I followed it out into the churchyard. There was no one in the churchyard, & no one within possible distance along the road—this was about 20 seconds after I had seen it; & in any case there were only 2 people in the road, & neither at all resembled the figure. I looked into the church. The only people there were the vicar, dressed in black, & a workman who, as far as I remember, had been sawing the whole time. In any case he was too tall for the figure. The figure had therefore vanished. Presumably an hallucination.

I have been up in town since the beginning of the month. I have made arrangements to go hop-picking, but we shan’t start till the beginning of September. Meanwhile I’ve been busy working. I met recently one of the editors of a new paper that is to start coming out in October, & I hope I shall be able to get some work from them—not enough to live on, of course, but enough to help. I’ve been making just a few enquiries among the tramps. Of the three friends I had before, one is believed to have been run over & killed, one has taken to drink & vanished, one is doing time in Wandsworth. I met a man today who was, till 6 weeks ago, a goldsmith. Then he poisoned his right forefinger, & had to have part of the top joint removed; that means he will be on the road for life. It is appalling what small accidents can ruin a man who works with his hands. Talking of hands, they say hop-picking disables your hands for weeks after—however, I’ll describe that to you when I’ve done it.

Have you ever looked into the window of one of those Bible Society shops? I did today & saw huge notices ‘The cheapest Roman Catholic Bible 5/6d. The cheapest Protestant Bible 1/—’, ‘The Douay version not stocked here’ etc. etc. Long may they fight, I say; so long as that spirit is in the land we are safe from the R.C.’s—this shop, by the way, was just outside St Paul’s. If you are ever near St Paul’s & feel in a gloomy mood, go in & have a look at the statue of the first Protestant bishop of India, which will give you a good laugh. Will write again when I have news. I am sending this to S’wold.

Eric A Blair

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  1. Dennis Collings (1905—) was a friend of Orwell’s from the time the Blair family moved to Southwold in 1921; Collings’s father became the Blair family doctor. Collings grew sisal in Mozambique, 1924—27; read anthropology at Cambridge,  1928-31; and was appointed assistant curator of the Raffles Museum, Singapore, when he joined the Colonial Service in 1934. That year he married Eleanor Jaques, with whom Orwell corresponded.

Source: CW10-109

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One Response to Letter to Dennis Collings (16 August 1931)

  1. Frank on October 29, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Cute story. Thanks for making this available. I love Orwell!

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