A Literary Journey through Wartime Britain

A Literary Journey through Wartime Britain

A Literary Journey through Wartime Britain

A Literary Journey through Wartime Britain

Excerpt

In October 1840 the Edinburgh Review printed the essay (on von Ranke History of the Popes) in which Macaulay, reflecting upon the impermanence of human institutions, imagined a time 'when some traveller from New Zealand' should 'in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.' In the same month exactly a century later, when Londoners were hearing each night the low-toned throbbing of hostile aircraft overhead and the crump . . . crump . . . crump . . . of bombs, it seemed possible that any morning Macaulay's fancy might become a prophecy fulfilled. London Bridge remained unharmed, however, and from its southern end, where no modern buildings obstruct the view, the familiar outline of St. Paul's still crowns the city. The cathedral, as all the world knows, has suffered grievous damage, but so extensive is Wren's masterpiece and so sound its fabric that the injuries are strictly localized and hardly apparent until they are seen at close quarters. Even then, in proportion to the surrounding vastness, they seem scarcely more than the gnawings of giant rats.

Whatever touches London touches the world. Through six centuries London has been a great matrix of man's mind and imagination. The British (or at least the English) are often derided as unimaginative and insular, yet they have written more great poetry than any other people and their literature has gone out to the ends of the earth. A great deal of that literature has been written by men and women to whom London was a lodestar; much of it, indeed, by those born in London-Chaucer, Thomas More, Donne, Herrick, Ben Jonson, Thomas Browne, Milton, Pepys, Defoe, Pope, Gibbon, Blake, Lamb, Byron, Keats, Elizabeth Gaskell, Trollope, Ruskin, Rossetti, Swinburne. . . . The fascination of London was felt and expressed by . . .

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