The English Past: Evocations of Persons and Places

By A. L. Rowse | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Now that the great days of England are perhaps over -- it is extraordinary to think that we have lived through the very greatest of them in our own lifetime -- it is somehow consoling to pursue and evoke the past, recent as well as remote, to weave together in the mind some design from the fragments that remain, in places that hold these echoes for us still. It is strangely fascinating too -- the more one pursues these themes, the more one realises the inexhaustible riches of an old and civilised country, the memories of the soil, the depth of mould.

The purpose of this book is to bring together a number of evocations of persons and places. My aim is to see the people through the places where they lived or which their lives touched, and the places through them and their eyes. My object is not literary criticism -- there is far too much criticism in contemporary writing: a fungoid growth smothering and devitalising the creative. I prefer the juices of life. My interest is in life, my desire to depict and reveal it, even in those long dead, in the places that once knew them and retain some imprint of them still. Here in a Berkshire garden is a tree under which Swift wrote; there the dress which Charlotte Brontë wore on her wedding tour, the teacups the girls drank out of, the view they looked out on from their bedroom at Haworth; the mining village that was the scene of D. H. Lawrence's early life, the dwellings where he lived, that witnessed the growth of genius and the anguish of that symptomatic spirit; the tombs of the Hobys at Bisham and the story they reveal; the pastoral background of Milton's family on the threshold of Oxford.

This book is, in a sense, a sequel to -- though different in character from -- an earlier book of essays, The English Spirit. Both books may be taken as illustrating themes from my little book, The Spirit of English History.

-vii-

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The English Past: Evocations of Persons and Places
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • All Souls (1945) 1
  • Bisham and the Hobys 15
  • Hillesden in Buckinghamshire 46
  • Dear Dr. Denton - An English Gentleman of The Seventeenth Century 66
  • The Milton Country 85
  • Swift at Letcombe 113
  • Afternoon at Haworth Parsonage 143
  • Thomas Hardy and Max Gate 165
  • John Buchan at Elsfield 184
  • Nottingham: A Midlands Capital 196
  • D. H. Lawrence at Eastwood 217
  • Alun Lewis: A Foreword 238
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