Mary Webb. Armour Wherein He Trusted. [n.d., but 1925–27]. Prose manuscript, one hundred and ninety-four leaves. The first eighty-six leaves, 8″ x 6¼″, white ruled laid paper, written in black and blue ink, and pencil. These leaves are in a notebook, bound in coarse rose-colored cloth. The last 108 leaves, on widely varying sizes and types of paper, written in black and brown ink and pencil. The manuscript has been corrected throughout, and the leaves are worn and show indications of fire damage on some of the upper edges. The first four leaves are torn, and roughly repaired. On the inside back cover of the notebook, below a pasted-in reproduction (taken from Owst’s Preaching in Medieval England, ca. 1350–1450) of a preacher in a churchyard, Webb has poignantly written:
“My child I said, I see that you have not-yet-learned what alone-ness is. But I know it, & it is that stark silence, grey, absolute, clear of all created things, in which I was when I took thee. I had like to have died—But then God came in, with flowers & a retinue of stars, & since that time He hath filled all the place, & so there is no sorrow for thee.”
Mary Webb had formally expressed her belief in God and biblical teachings in an earlier review, “The Poetry of the Prayer Book,” in T. P. and Cassell’s Weekly, 17 April 1926. In that review, she stated: “. . . the Prayer Book is ours by divine right, because it is the folklore of the soul.” As she felt her life-force ebbing away, Mary Webb’s wistfulness for earth’s beauty was never greater than in her last unfinished novel. She allegorizes her own life conflicts in the story of Sir Gilbert Polrebec’s struggle to renounce the material world, and especially to leave his wife Nesta (who symbolizes earthly love and loveliness) to follow Peter the Hermit in the First Crusade. In his memoir, The Glory that was Grub Street (1928), Arthur St. John Adcock, editor of the Bookman, relates that a publisher had readily signed an agreement in 1925, giving Webb liberal terms sight-unseen for her next novel. Webb told Adcock in early 1927 that, after two years, she (uncharacteristically) had completed barely half of the new book. A few days after his conversation with Webb, Adcock recalls:
“. . . she called me on the telephone in evident distress, began saying how unwell she had been, then interrupted herself to say abruptly, ‘I have destroyed all I had done of the new novel.’ There was no immediate reply to my surprised, ‘Good lord, whatever made you do that?’ and I have seldom heard anything more piteous than the subdued, broken sound of her crying at the other end of the line. Presently, when she could speak again, she blamed herself miserably, said she had felt so dissatisfied, felt that she could not finish it, and would never write any more, so, on a sudden impulse, had torn it and put it on the fire.”
Henry Webb saved the manuscript of Armour Wherein He Trusted from the fire (Wrenn, Goodbye to Morning, 1964, p. 100). This is the only extant manuscript of Webb’s six novels. An article, “Mary Webb’s Pathetic Little Library Sold, Shabby Volumes Now Rare Pieces” (in the News Chronicle, April 28, 1938) reads in part: “Henry Webb told antiquarian bookseller Elkin Mathews (to whom he later sold this manuscript and the books in Mary’s small library): ‘All the other manuscripts were burnt. They took up too much room in the tiny cottage, and, besides, they made a splendid fire which lasted a long time.’” Bookplate of Frederick Baldwin Adams, Jr.