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William H. Davies

Autobiography of a Super-tramp

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‘I have read it through from beginning to end, and would have read more of it had there been any more to read’ George Bernard Shaw

William Henry Davies was born in a pub and learnt early in life to rely on his wits and his fists—and to drink. Around the turn of the century, when he was twenty- two, his restless spirit of adventure led him to set off for America, and he worked around the country taking casual jobs where he could, thieving and begging where he couldn’t. His experiences were richly coloured by the bullies, tricksters, and fellow-adventurers he encountered. He was thrown into prison in Michigan, beaten up in New Orleans, witnessed a lynching in Tennessee, and got drunk pretty well everywhere.

When George Bernard Shaw first read the Autobiography in manuscript, he was stunned by the raw power of its unvarnished narrative. It was his enthusiasm, expressed in the Preface, that ensured the initial success of a book now regarded as a classic.

With a foreword by broadcaster and foreign correspondent, Trevor Fishlock, this Library of Wales edition also includes the original preface by George Bernard Shaw, who was instrumental in the book’s first publication.


William H. Davies was born in 1871. He was unable to settle to regular work and spent a significant part of his life as a tramp, living in shelters and doss-houses in London, but began publishing his own poetry in 1905, and became a popular poet in his time and went on to mix with leading society figures. The principal themes in his work are the marvels of nature, observations about life’s hardships, his own tramping adventures and the various characters he met. He is best known for his poem ‘Leisure’, with its opening lines ‘What is this life if, full of care / We have no time to stand and stare’.