Poems, letters and memories of Philip Sidney Nairn, arranged by E.R. Eddison (London, 1916)

This was Eddison’s first published work: a memoir, written in homage to a close friend from his undergraduate days at Trinity College, Oxford, who died in May 1914, aged only 30, whilst working as a District Officer in Malaya. Their friendship was formed in college rooms, in a genial atmosphere of ‘tobacco-smoke and wine’, reading aloud from their favourite authors and sharing new literary discoveries. They also shared a sense of fun and adventure, and were part of a select group of students, the ‘Alpine Club’, who scaled college buildings at night. Their love of climbing drove them to the Lake District, ‘exploring the high fells between Skiddaw and Scafell’, returning to their lodgings as dusk fell or in the black darkness of the quick-falling night, stumbling with tiredness ‘among many walls and stony water-courses’ and ‘halting at whiles to imbibe new energy from the brandy-flask’.

The book is Eddison’s attempt to preserve his friend’s ‘vitality of spirit’, and to deny the finality that death brought to their friendship. In this he succeeds. In the memoir, Nairn is brought vividly to life, and an immediacy is given to the narrative by the liberal use of his letters to Eddison and his diary entries. For those who are also interested in Eddison’s life and work, there are many illuminating glimpses of his early life.

Nairn may have been one of the earliest fans of Eddison’s talents as a writer. One of his poems, written from Malaya in 1907, is addressed to E.R.E.:

‘Who is there who can write one-half so well
As you, my friend?
Is it some magic ink that casts a spell
On words you’ve penned?’

Words that keep alive a friendship, over a century later, when both men have long since passed away.