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Davidson, John

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1857-1909) Scottish schoolteacher, poet, playwright and author, best known in the first capacity for his Fleet Street Eclogues (coll 1893 chap); though not specifically fantastic, his intensely urban poetry, much of which focuses on science and technology from an almost mystical point of view, had a shaping influence now forgotten. Some tales, like Perfervid: The Career of Ninian Jamieson (1890), contain unfocused elements of the fantastic, partly through spoof exaggerations of social comedy. The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1848-1900) influenced much of his work, including a play, "Smith, a Tragic Farce" (written 1888; in Plays, coll 1894), which proclaims (edgily) a Nietzschean Superman. A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender [for full title see Checklist below] (1895), is a Satire about a similar self-appointed Nietzschean overman, who decides – in typical Scientific Romance fashion, which is here guyed – that Evolution has foreordained him; some scenes are set in mysterious venues beneath London (see Underground). In the Testaments series, a Cosmological sublime soars rather beyond the Nietzschean, perhaps most clearly in Testaments: No I: The Testament of a Vivisector (1901 chap), The Testament of a Prime Minister (1904), with its inferno-like vision of East London, and The Testament of John Davidson (1908), where he advocates a form of Creative Evolution influenced by George Bernard Shaw.

"Scaramouch in Naxos: a Pantomime" [written 1894; in Plays, coll 1894; see Checklist for full title] is an early realization in metaphysical terms of the Commedia dell'Arte [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Miss Armstrong's and Other Circumstances (coll 1896) contains "An Interregnum in Fairyland", a fantasy tale, and "The Member for Gotham", a Satire with a Dystopian edge. "Eagle's Shadow" (written circa 1886), a Future War story told by a visitor from the future, and "The Salvation of Nature" (written circa 1886), a spoof Utopia ending in worldwide Disaster, both feature in the Great Men cycle of Club Stories collected in The Great Men and A Practical Novelist (coll 1891), the second half of the title not referring to work of genre interest; both these stories also appear in The Pilgrimage of Strongsoul and Other Stories (coll 1896). Had not cancer almost certainly caused his Suicide, Davidson might have been one of the creative figures whose response to World War One could have been helpful to its survivors. [JC/BS]

see also: End of the World.

John Davidson

born Barrhead, Renfrewshire, Scotland: 11 April 1857

died Penzance, Cornwall: circa 23 March 1909 [last seen on this date; drowned body discovered six months later]

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