|WNP Barbellion. Illustration by John Nash.|
My hero: WNP Barbellion by William Atkins
He was born Bruce Frederick Cummings in Barnstaple in 1889, his boyhood fascination with the natural world cultivated by egg-collecting and jam-jar fishing forays along the Taw estuary. Sickly from a young age, Barbellion was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 26. It is his dying that dominates the journal's adult entries. But while MS curtailed a promising career as an entomologist, The Journal of a Disappointed Man records its author's refusal, even as he lay immobilised, to be undone in spirit by the disease racking his body.
It sat unread on my bookshelves until a couple of years ago, during my annual book purge. Today its pages are crowded with underlinings, encirclings and marginal exclamations. It's a furious, sometimes ecstatic, volatile little book. Even as he is dying, Barbellion allows himself few consolations, dissecting the pretentions of literary London as mercilessly as he describes his own body's gradual ruination ("millions of bacteria are gnawing away at my precious spinal cord"). Always he returns to the natural world that did not cease to galvanise him.