We are lucky that lots of material relating to Alfred Williams's life still survives, including many personal letters - and the treasures keep on surfacing.
Book dealer John Price, who is also the Chairman of the Richard Jefferies Society, acquired some papers associated with Samuel Looker in the spring of 2012, and among them was an unexpected letter from Alfred.
Looker is best known for his collecting and editing of works by Alfred's fellow Swindon naturalist and writer, back in the 1930s and 1940s. Two decades earlier, Alfred wrote to him about a different writer, John Keats, but his letter also revealed some key information about India.
The letter was written while Alfred was recovering in hospital with an ulcerated eye and a "fever" - actually malaria - in 1919, eight months after the end of the First World War. His eye condition and illness ensured that Alfred was not posted to Afghanistan, where his battery were sent to quell fresh conflict.
John Bailey, who is mentioned in the letter, was a long-time friend of Alfred, to whom he dedicated his 1913 book of poems, Cor Cordium.
John Price is an Alfred enthusiast and supporter of our society, and we are indebted to him for providing us with a copy of the letter, below, and this transcription:
Gnr. A. Williams
68 Heavy Battery R.G.A.
Roorke. India 19.7.19
Dear Mr Looker,
Some time ago Mr john Bailey told me of having made your acquaintance and spoke of you with real admiration. In reply I asked him for your address. This he sent to me some weeks ago, but at the time of its arrival in India I was half blind in Cawnpore hopsital with an ulcer on the Corona of the left eye, following fever. I am now transferred to a Himalayan Hill Station for specialist treatment, having as yet but one eye in use.
I remember that Mr Baily told me that you had written a book on the poet Keats. I wonder what has become of it, whether you are intending to publish it or not. Have you published any work at all? I take it for granted that you are an enthusiast on poetry, otherwise how would you have written on Keats! I have never attempted anything for publication on the poets, thought I have read very well. But I am not so fortunate as to possess in any remarkable degree what is usually termed the critical faculty. I am the lover, not the critic. Mr Bailey is lover and critic too; and I feel sure that he might have written more than he has (more poetry, I mean) if he had taken the trouble to lay himself out for the task.
I should like to see your book on Keats, and you must write to me and tell me something about it and the other work you have done. Do you write poems? I expect you do, though Mr Bailey did not mention this. I am glad that he has found you. He is very kind, and has given me much useful advice and encouragement ever since I was brought to his notice some 10 years ago.
Today is Peace Day, I believe. I say "believe" because out here in India we soldiers scarcely know one day from another. We have no celebrations in India before the cool weather, for even now, though the worst of the heat has long passed (latter May and ealy June) it is still too, too hot to risk attending out of doors ceremonies. I came on here via Roorke and Saharanpur a week ago, and while at Roorke two men of my battery died of heat apoplexy.
Chakrata is at an altitude of 8,000 feet. The monsoon rains are on now in the Hills and we are shrouded with clouds every day and all day, yet now and then we catch a glympse of the surrounding mountains. this is in the heart of the Himalayas, and the view in clear weather is magnificent, with a snow line 300 miles long and 22,000 to 26,000 feet high. India is a wonderful land; so wonderful that I claim there is nothing else in the world equal to it. Yet everyone knows the dangers of climate etc. I have had my misfortunes here, but it was worth the price.
I shall expect to hear from you when you have the leisure.
Believe me, Yours sincerely
(Gnr) Alfred Williams.