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.
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