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The Spring of Joy. 1917 First Edition. Henry Webb’s copy

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Mary Webb. The Spring of Joy. A Little Book of Healing. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1917. First edition. Inscribed by Webb on front free endpaper: “H. B. L. Webb / with love from Mary. / Spring Cottage / 1917.” Written around the age of twenty as she was recovering from her first bout of Graves’ disease, but unpublished until fifteen years later (after the publication of The Golden Arrow [1916] and Gone to Earth [1917]), the printed dedication reads “TO THE WEARY AND WOUNDED / IN THE BATTLE OF LIFE / THIS LITTLE BOOK IS LOVINGLY DEDICATED.” Having found her creative force during prolonged confinement by illness, Mary states in her opening essay, “Vis Medicatrix Naturae”: “It does not matter how shut in we are.  Opportunity for wide experience is of small account in this as in other things; it is depth that brings understanding and life.” The nine essays, which explore and celebrate nature’s variety, are permeated with poetry. They preview Webb’s descriptive brilliance, which creates the visual power in her novels. “The essays provide an atmospheric setting for her later major work; the roots of her novels are here, a synthesis of her feeling for nature and her feeling for humanity, her close depictions of the natural world and projection of her philosophy of life” (Coles, Mary Webb, 1990, p. 38). However, Webb was not entirely satisfied with The Spring of Joy. In September 1917, she sent a copy of it with a letter to Mr. Hardress O’Grady, author and educator at the University of London. In the letter, Webb says: “Will you accept this little book? I am diffident about it, as it was written not long after leaving school. I left school at 17, to help at home, and was ill (in bed most of the time) for some years.” Webb sent an extraordinary second letter to O’Grady, reading in part: “Ever since sending you my little book, on an impulse (alas! I always act on impulse) I have regretted it, being desperately afraid you would be so bored with it, that you would lose all interest in your protégé. Please dont [sic] read it if you haven’t yet. . . . You will think me quite crazy to so bombard you with letters. I wont [sic] in the future, but since sending that horrid little book I have been on thorns.” In 1912, O’Grady published Matter, Form, and Style. A Manual of Practice in the Writing of English Composition, a book intended to help school instructors improve their effectiveness at teaching English composition.