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The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  473 ratings  ·  55 reviews
A vagrant de Tocqueville gives an eloquent, dry-eyed report of his tramping adventures in the violent underworld of late 19th century America and Britain

An untutored Welsh tramp who became a popular poet acclaimed by the conservative Georgians and the vanguard Ezra Pound alike, W. H. Davies surprised his contemporaries with the unlikeliest portrait of the artist as a young
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Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Melville House (first published 1908)
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Chrissie
W.H. Davies (1871-1940) writes of the five years, 1893-1899, he spent as a vagabond tramping across the US, Canada and England. He travelled by train, riverboat and foot, never buying a ticket. He was restless in his soul. He lived by begging, by hawking, as a migrant worker harvesting crops, by tending cattle on cattle-boats crossing the ocean back and forth between Baltimore and Liverpool. He was Welsh and had family living in Wales, whom he would occasionally visit. He enjoyed reading, he wan ...more
James Marinero
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book which I have read several times over the last 30 years - recommended by a much respected English teacher in my high school. Maybe one of the best 'road' stories, literally. In music we hear about some of this background in Woody Guthrie's songs, but this is raw and real. I'll put it back again on my 'to read' shelf. As I am Welsh, it really resonates.
Feliks
Unusual reading material, some might say...but I thoroughly enjoyed this odd and epigrammatical title by an obscure Welsh hobo who traveled and wrote around the year 1900. As a sign that it is 'raw' and 'unvarnished' and may 'crimp our modern ears' there is not just one but three separate introductions built-in to-the-reading experience in order to 'prepare' we contemporary readers for WH Davies' 'rustic' and 'salty' ruminations. There's an original introduction by none other than grand-old-man- ...more
Robert Humphries
As a son of Newport myself, I am somewhat partial to Davies, and I was entertained and informed about social conditions in late 19th century America by his firsthand account of tramping around the country. Nevertheless, Davies's Edwardian prose and occasional humor make his experiences seem easier and more carefree than they clearly were. Worse, the book is marred by moments of appalling racism which seem out of character with the gentle tone of the rest of the work. Davies was undoubtedly a man ...more
Jim Townsend
I enjoyed this book from whose title the rock band Supertramp took its name. Davies (1871-1940) relates his life and experiences up to 1906, when he was age 35. It seemed to me, like all good writing, to have a "you are there" quality to it, as well as being unadorned. Highly recommended.
David Gross
Jun 09, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An early entry in the line of ne'er-d'ye-well starving artist autobiographies that continues with books like You Can't Win (Jack Black) and Junky (William S. Burroughs).

This book is less interesting than those. It tells of an interesting life and interesting events and people, but not particularly evocatively. And it's salted with some wholly uninteresting anecdotes (like the landlord squabble he finishes the book with) and unintentional shaggy dog stories.

Not a complete waste of time, but nothi
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Domhnall
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an autobiographical account of the life of W.H. Davies as a young man at the very end of the nineteenth century, and explains that he was motivated to travel because of the restricted opportunities open to him in his native Welsh town. He had done well at school, left early (as was normal) to undertake and complete an apprenticeship, and had the benefit of a small regular income through the will of his grandmother. However, he notes that, visiting his home after some years absence, he fo ...more
Sean
Jul 27, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is good if you want to learn about the life of a
"tramp" or "hobo" during the late 19th century in Britain and North America. The people in this book are the what most people picture when they hear "hobo." They were the people with little tied-up bundles who would jump on trains and ride the rails. The story of this guy's life is moderately interesting. It's not action-packed, but it probably won't put you to sleep either. For me, there is no great wisdom or really even life lessons to
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Stephen
Jun 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
an interesting book of a flawed genius william davies born in newport wales and his tramping around the USA, canada and then his tragic accident which brings him back to England and trampling the highways of the counties with his wooden leg and his dream to have a book/poems published.. maybe classed as one of the first ever classic on the road books based around the author's travels late 19th-early 20th century and even the book gave its name to a famous music band as well Supertramp
Misfits farm
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set at the turn of the 20th century, this is one of those classic novels to enjoy. The story of a man who travels and lives day to day riding trains, living in prisons for free and being astute enough to fund himself even overseas and back again with a little help from his friends. Knowledge gets passed on and so lives the wandering tramps. You can’t help smile at some of the antics they get up to- boarding trains and escaping inspectors. This book was recommended to me and I am so glad that i d ...more
Spurnlad
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Great insight into conditions as a tramp in late 19th C
Anthony Peter
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I most enjoyed about this autobiography was its measured style suggestive of a mind concerned to weigh up experience carefully and justly. Davies writes in his last two paragraphs: "Perhaps I am deceived as to the worth or worthlessness of certain people, but I have given my experience of them without exaggeration, describing as near as memory makes it possible, things exactly as they occurred. I have made no effort to conceal my gratitude for those who have befriended me, and I have made e ...more
Laraine Anne Anne
My husband often mentioned how much he enjoyed reading this book when he was a kid. So when he bought an old copy (from the thirties, I think) I decided to read it too. I struggled a little with the first chapter, but after that found myself thoroughly engrossed, though I couldn't help being reminded of the movie Emperor of the North. I was also glad I didn't read the preface by George Bernard Shaw until after reading the book because it would have ruined one of the major scenes. (And now I need ...more
Sarah
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Amy
May 15, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What it's about: The autobiography of poet W.H.Davies before he became famous. For much of the last years of the 19th Century he was a tramp, either by choice or latterly by circumstance. With a dispassionate voice given to seeing the good in almost everyone, he recounts ordinary and extraordinary events from this time.

I found this work notable for its calm voice, which never seemed to get excited by any event or person. It made me work harder as a reader to understand who he was as a person. I
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Catherine
2.5 stars

The book is quite gentle in style and doesn't really dwell on the deprivations that people in Davies' position must have found themselves. It was an interesting read but I'm afraid I didn't find it a patch on Orwell's 'Down and and Out in Paris and London'. However what really left a nasty taste in the mouth was the racism encountered in the chapter 'A Lynching' Firstly the incident in itself was execrable, but Davies makes some sickening comments of his own. After this I just could not
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James Lundy
Mar 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: armchair time travelers
This is a fantastic and rare read. How many tramps from the late 19th century / early 20th century wrote books to give you a vivid picture of what it was like to be a tramp then? Not an outsider romanticizing it or trying to make it sound pitiable. This is the only one I know of. I love credible glimpses of other worlds and other times.
Ramesh Naidu
Apr 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Leisure by W H Davies had always held a hold on me since my childhood, so I had to read this book. It was delightful to read that the man had lived his life by the same principles that one would expect him to espouse, after reading "Leisure"
Karen Rye
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
Not my usual cup of tea, but nonetheless diverting. Comedic, sad, inspiring and yet awkward to read. Beautifully written in places, spasmodic and clumsy in others.
Kindleworm Dot Com
My school house master, Peter Forest, who was also my maths teacher, one day stated in front of the whole class that i'd either grow up to be the next Einstein or a tramp, and that he feared it would most probably be the latter.   Suffice it to say, i never did get around to doing that degree in theoretical physics.

So when i found this book on Amazon it reminded me of Peter Forest and his condemnation of my future and was certainly instrumental in my purchase.   I wasn't disappointed, so thanks
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R Davies
Whereas the previous fictionalised memoir I'd read could easily be accused of a thorough over-indulgence to it's detriment ( Shantaram ), this certainly cannot be levelled at WH Davies' account. This turn of the century tale of an itinerant wanderer, who tramped widely across North America and Britain is one of sparse, economical prose. Events are rendered swiftly, characters with odd nicknames are mentioned mostly in passing, save the odd one or two who has left an impression on the author such ...more
Sanjay Varma
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I found this book after learning that the music group Supertramp borrowed its name from the book’s title. I read with a strange fascination the life of this incredibly lazy person, who could only engage with the world through wandering, free from responsibilities, and always reliant on begging. His description of the peace he feels in nature are evocative.
“I noted with joy the first green field after the park, the first bird that differed from the sparrow...”


He describes many layers to begging,
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Helen Meads
Aug 26, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book set for us to read (Girls’ Grammar School) in the late 1960s and, even given the seismic changes in society since then, I can’t for the life of me fathom why it was thought suitable for us. Davies lacks a moral compass, is misogynistic and racist in a way I can describe only as disgusting in its approval for a lynching (Chapter XV is entitled ‘A Lynching’) - one in our class was of dual heritage and what must she have felt reading his comments? These days her mother would storm t ...more
Robin Helweg-Larsen
W.H. Davies was a poet whose best-known piece begins

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Born in Newport, Wales, in 1871, he was raised by his grandparents. As a boy he fought a lot, and at 13 was the leader of gang, was arrested for stealing handbags, and got twelve strokes of the birch. He read enthusiastically, disliked being apprenticed to a maker of picture frames, and at 21 took passage to America. His years of wandering provide a fascinating view of the US
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R Books
Dec 21, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: random
Very good book when it comes to looking at the life of a person and why the picked the life they did. I was amazed at the way he was able to adapt in life. Did think it was a little more of a dry read then what i normally would pick. I am glade I read it though just to give perspective into another persons life and their experiences .
Douglas Mcleod
Very easy to read but lacks something. The best line in it for me was when one of the fellow guests says that he cannot tell the difference between a curate and a vicar except that the vicar is fatter with a redder nose.
It also has a number of scenes which these days are highly incorrect politically speaking and so it should be read as quickly as possible before history is 'adjusted' .
Grace Harwood
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is such a charming book, where the author recounts his experiences as a gentleman of the road quite frankly, including his reasons for his lifestyle choices (can't be bothered to get a job) and his many misadventures due to too many beers. It's charming, funny and contains some beautiful prose. This is definitely worth a read.
David Lumpkin
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book was interesting to me. A side of life I don't get to see usual. Davies offered what seems to be an honest look of how he happened into becoming a tramp and eventually work to make his life better.
Chris Cantor
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful book of observations of humanity. There is no story per se but the warmth radiating from the author is amazing despite his disadvantaged lifestyle (though he does not see it that way). If all of humanity were as generous as he we would have few problems.
Andy Moore
I persisted, but this is another book that could have been much shorter and sharper.
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William Henry Davies was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales. His father was, at the time a Publican. After an apprenticeship as a picture-frame maker and a series of labouring jobs, he travelled to America, first to New York and then to the Klondike.

He returned to England after an accident whilst jumping a train in Canada, he lost a foot. Upon his return to Britain he led a poor, hard life livi
...more

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