This page is only the starting point for those wishing to sample the works of Alfred Williams. It features an overview of his major works, in the order in which they were written. See the links under each heading, below, for information about specific works.



A lyrical play, completed in the spring of 1904 and based on Lord Byron's play of 1821, this was Alfred Williams's first original work - as opposed to the translations he had previously produced.

Although it was rejected by publisher John Lane, Alfred received a letter that said two of his readers admired it, but added that it lacked form.

However, Lane was sufficiently taken with the work to ask Alfred to return it to him the following year, so he could show it to three more readers. After a delay caused by illness and a trip to America, Lane eventually told Alfred that he wasn't going to publish after all.

Alfred re-wrote the play in 1923, but the revision was not published.


Alfred's first book - a volume of poems, completed in 1907 but not published until 1909. It was originally called Gifts to Eros but was renamed Songs in Wiltshire before publication.

Running to 170 pages, it was only published because of a personal guarantee by Edmond Fitzmaurice, and cost five shillings (25p), although those copies that Alfred sold personally he sold at cost price - 3/9 (19p). The book was dedicated "To Lord Fitzmaurice, whose spontaneous interest occasioned the appearance of this volume".

The book featured 56 original poems and four translations. Of the originals, 25 were love songs, while 20 were nature poems - four of these specifically about Wiltshire. This included one called Liddington Hill, of which he wrote:
O Thou bonny high hill!
I covet no other;
Our secrets we tell,
For we love one another.

Alfred worked hard to sell as many copies as possible because he felt an obligation towards Fitzmaurice - even to the extent that he eventually paid money out of his own pocket, mostly for train fares incurred while selling the books.


An anthology of poems by the Authors' Association, published in July 1907. Two of Alfred's poems were included: The Greek Peasant's Prayer for Rain and The Brook.

At least one critic highlighted Prayer as the best poem in the book - thus giving him his first national recognition as a writer.


An anthology of poems by the Authors' Association, published in 1909 - the second to include Alfred's poems. The poems featured were The Devotee and Ere I was Quickened in the Womb (later called The Bondsman).


Alfred's second book of poems, completed in January 1911, published in the last week of November 1911 and dedicated to his wife, Mary.

The book featured 67 poems, of which 48 were originals. Many took the themes of Wiltshire and/or nature, while others were of a more philosophical or autobiographical nature. It included translations of poems in Greek, Latin and French.


Alfred's book recounting his experiences as a hammerman in Swindon Works, begun in 1911.

It could not be published until Alfred left the employment of the Great Western Railway, but after he finally resigned from his job on September 3, 1914, he completed the final draft of the book in early May 1915.

It was finally published in October 1915.

For more details and to find out how to read the book online, visit the Life in a Railway Factory page.

A Wiltshire Village

Alfred's book of memoirs of his early years in South Marston. It was begun in the spring of 1912 and the first draft completed in just ten weeks, by May 1912. The was offered to Duckworth in July 1912, who "accepted the book for publication without hesitation", and they published it on October 21, 1912 - the same month as Nature and Other Poems (see below).

It was dedicated to Edward Garnett.

According to Leonard Clark: "No composition had ever given him greater release or pleasure than this honest and unadorned story of the life that went on daily in South Marston. He seemed to find a new strength and purpose."

Alfred told Edmond Fitzmaurice: "The motif of the work is to give a picture of rural life - an unvarnished one - as I have lived it, and also to contrast it with the towns, and beside this to sketch the locality - an unknown corner of north Wilts - and call attention to the farmer's lot."

He expected criticism over its content, admitting: "There is bound to be a little divergence of view with regard to certain lines I have taken up, and some of the opinions I have expressed."

Because of its frank look at rural conditions, Alfred expected the book to be controversial. "I like it, on the whole," he wrote, "but I expect that I shall offend very many, for there is a great amount of frank statement concerning many matters. Generally speaking, however, it is a book of 'nature and life' and not of opinion."

As Leonard Clark put it: "The vignettes Williams drew with such artistry were acclaimed with delight beyond the bounds of South Marston, but in the village itself there was little praise or surprise," although Alfred also reported that some people complained to him because they had not been included.

The biggest criticism came from the vicar of South Marston, the Rev Angus MacDonald, who bought two copies of the book and burned them both - saying they were "too disgusting to read". He also attacked Alfred in successive Sunday sermons, but without mentioning him by name.

According to Leonard Clark, the whole point of the book "revolves around his oft stated contention that the countryside is superior to the town. This claim, which was ever in his thoughts, is made over and over again in A Wiltshire Village.

Reviewed in many serious literary publications, including The Times, the book sold well - 700 copies by February 1913.

Passages from the book (along with Villages of the White Horse) feature in an anthology called In A Wiltshire Village, compiled by Michael Justin Davis and published in 1981.


Alfred's third book of poems, sent to Erskine Macdonald in July 1912 - the same month as A Wiltshire Village (see above).

It was published in the first week of October, 1912 and dedicated to The Hon Mrs Agar.

The book included several lenghty works, including The Hills (nine pages) and The Testament, which at more than 20 pages, was Alfred's second longest, and the one that he considered his best.

Read the book online.


Alfred's fourth book of poems, completed by the middle of 1913 and published on October 25, 1913.

It was dedicated to John Bailey.

It features 36 poems, generally described as "love poems" (including two that had previously appeared in Songs in Wiltshire (see above)) but continuing with the theme of nature. 'Cor Cordium' translates as 'heart of hearts'.

Leonard Clark said: "It is his last really worthwhile poetic contribution and lies at the top of that crescendo which had begun four yours earlier with Songs in Wiltshire... Cor Cordium must be considered the peak of his achievement. After 1913 there is little else which reaches the same intensity or power."


Alfred's second book of prose, completed in April 1913, accepted for publication in July 1913, and dedicated to Mrs Story Maskelyne.

It is described by Leonard Clark as "a masterpiece" and "as a travel book alone, Villages of the White Horse is a work of art".

Continuing with the same theme as A Wiltshire Village (see above), it chronicled rural life in villages near South Marston.

Alfred cycled to the villages to collect information about them, starting in the summer of 1912.

The book features references to 20 villages: Bassett Down, Wroughton, Hodson, Chiseldon, Badbury, Medbourne, Liddington, Wanborough, Aldbourne, Baydon, Hinton Parva, Bourton, Bishopstone, Idstone, Ashbury, Kingstone Winslow, Knighton, Woolstone, Uffington and Kingston Lisle.

Passages from the book (along with A Wiltshire Village) feature in an anthology called In A Wiltshire Village, compiled by Michael Justin Davis and published in 1981.


Alfred's third book of prose, completed in first draft by spring 1914, but not published in book form until 1922.

For more details and to find out how to read the book online, visit the Round About the Upper Thames page.

Passages from the book, along with Banks of Isis, feature in an anthology called Round About The Middle Thames, compiled by Michael Justin Davis and published in 1982.


A series of anti-German poems written following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, eventually published in book form in 1916.

The first, called Right Inviolate, was published in the Swindon Advertiser on August 24, 1914 (20 days after Britain declared war), followed by Battle Song, in October, which was designed for recruiting purposes.

In December 1914, his poem Albert, King of the Belgians, was sung at a reunion of Belgian refugees who were staying in Swindon.

The war poems were eventually published in book form at the beginning of 1916, called War Sonnets and Songs - by which time nearly all had already appeared in the local press. The theme was pro-war, being directly influenced by the patriot feelings of the first few months of the conflict. Exactly six months later, with the start of the bloody Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, many of the sentiments will have seemed out of touch with growing despair over the course of the war.

Alfred said they were "of no value" and added: "I am rather sorry I 'messed about' with them."


A collection of songs made by Alfred following extensive research, by bicycle. He cycled more than 7,000 miles to interview - often in their own homes - mostly aged local people who remembered songs that had sometimes been passed down generations.

The book was accepted for publication in January 1923, but work on it had begun much earlier - towards the end of 1914. By the middle of 1915 he had collected 300, and a selection were published in the Wilts and Gloster Standard. Thus, many of the contributors to the book were dead.

In book form, the collection included an essay on folk songs and their particular relation to the Upper Thames area, including details of his research methods, and was published on May 3, 1923. Dedicated to his late mother, it featured 250 songs of the more than 1,000 Alfred had collected.

The songs are now online - the large majority of a collection of more than a thousand songs which have been uploaded by Wiltshire County Council. Click here to go to the beginning of the list.

For a detailed look at Alfred's folk song-collecting, see The Folk Hero.

Click here to see a facsimile of the songs as serialised in the Wilts and Gloster Standard in 1916.


A book about army life, begun in November 1916. It was written during the various postings Alfred found himself while training with the Army, reaching a peak in the summer of 1917 while at Winchester, prior to his battery being posted to India.

In April 1918, Alfred learned from home that Duckworth were not interested in publishing the book.


A book about India, begun soon after Alfred's arrival at Roorkee in November 1917 and completed in the first week of February 1919.

In 1920, Alfred revised the book, renamed it 'Mid Palm and Pine, included a set of photographs - but still failed to interest a publisher.


A part fact, part fiction book, written by Alfred during his time in India.

Based on his actual experiences on his voyage to India, it recounts a fanciful, partly romantic tale, with a plot that Alfred deliberately made "ridiculous".

In 1923, Alfred largely re-wrote the book and renamed it Artillerymen Afloat.


Alfred's last 'villages book', written in 1924 and featuring the area around the Thames between Faringdon and Oxford.

It was rejected by Duckworth and other publishers after he submitted it in November 1924, but was serialised in the North Berks Herald in 1925.

Selected passages from the book (along with Round About the Upper Thames) appear in an anthology called Round About The Middle Thames, compiled by Michael Justin Davis and published in 1982.


A set of 100 'letters' to imaginary people, on the subject of "unions, the railways, farm workers, town and country, work and wages, political parties, history, education, hobbies, poses, smallholders, learning languages, the British Empire, Ireland, Egypt, India, etc."

Begun at the end of 1924, they were completed in April 1925.


An anthology of poems, published by Erskine MacDonald on December 16, 1925 and dedicated to Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.

The collection comprises 114 poems - some previously unpublished. There are 23 from his early career, 29 'love lyrics' in archaic style, 10 nature poems, 24 about India, 23 sonnets and 15 on miscellaneous topics. Many poems were published in a shorter form compared with their first publication.

The first edition contained so many errors that Alfred tried to have the book withdrawn, but it received good reviews, including in The Times. Leonard Clark considered the selection to include "nearly all Williams' poems worthy of preservation", except The Testament.

Selected poems was to be the last Alfred Williams booked published during his lifetime.


An unpublished novel, written in the first three months of 1927.

Written at the suggestion of various friends, it is largely autobiographical, with Alfred cast as Wilfred Weston and Mary as Grace Aldwyn. South Marston is called Colebrook, and Swindon is Winton.

Alfred may have been inspired to write the book after reading Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the previous year, which he greatly admired (and wished he'd had more time to read more Hardy).


A major translation of the ancient Sanskrit collection of fables, also including re-working of the text for simplification. Alfred translated 50 of the tales.

Began in early 1928, it was a year's work, and Alfred's last major project. After completing it, he wrote to Henry Byett to say: "I have found my final satisfaction."

"Tales From the Panchatantra is undoubtedly a masterpiece of its kind," wrote Leonard Clark, who noted the connection between it, as "pure folk lore" with his "country books".

Published in the year after his death with striking illustrations, the book was received - perhaps naively - as merely a children's book, and ironically Blackwell issued a selection of the stories for school use under the title Tales From the East, with a foreword that said: "were Mr Williams alive, nothing would give him greater pleasure than the knowledge that his work has been made a vehicle for the conveying of children to the very cradle of story-telling".

See the Wikipedia entry on The Panchatantra.


Three anthologies have been published in more modern times, based on Alfred's works. These all contain selections of passages or poems by Michael Justin Davis (sometimes credited as simply Michael Davis).

In A Wiltshire Village, which was published in 1981 and reprinted in 1992, is sub-titled Scenes from Rural Victorian Life and features selected passages from both A Wiltshire Village and Villages of the White Horse.

Similarly, Round About the Middle Thames, which is sub-titled Glimpses of Rural Victorian Life, features passages selected by Davis from Round About The Upper Thames and Banks of Isis, which has otherwise never been published in book form.

Davis also compiled a selection of Alfred's verses in 1976, called A Few Poems, which was a limited edition of 500 copies.

Go to top