Thursday, March 29, 2007
I finally managed to get out and find some lambs who were willing to have their photograph taken. I took this photograph about a half mile south of Kenilworth Castle. A little further along the path, a lamb came up to me and sniffed my trouser leg, then bounced away as if its legs were made out of springs. (Click photo to enlarge for maximum cuteness.)
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Since January, it's been possible to watch a genuine West Country cheddar maturing on live webcam, courtesy of West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers. Over the past three months, more than 500,000 viewers have tuned in to see the cheese sitting there, going slightly gray with mold. This morning, with James Naughtie reporting live on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, a hand reached in and took a sample from the cheese. It was about as exciting as CheddarVision gets, and Clara and I were there to see it.
In other entertainment news, on Monday evening the University of Warwick University Challenge team secured a place in this year's final four with a quarter-final victory over Aberystwyth. They face University College London (UCL) in the semis on April 9.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
Jane, before and after. Left: plain Jane, in the watercolor by her sister Cassandra. Right: the new Jane.
According to a story in The Times, the publisher Wordsworth Editions has commissioned a new portrait of Jane Austen to grace the covers of their budget-price editions of her novels. Helen Trayler, Wordsworth's managing director, tells The Times: “The poor old thing didn’t have anything going for her in the way of looks. Her original portrait is very, very dowdy. It wouldn’t be appealing to readers, so I took it upon myself to commission a new picture of her. We’ve given her a bit of a makeover, with make-up and some hair extensions and removed her nightcap. Now she looks great — as if she’s just walked out of a salon.”
Other great writers may soon receive makeovers. Trayler continued: “Virginia Woolf wasn’t much of a looker. I’m also considering making over George Eliot, who was frumpy, and William Wordsworth, who was pretty hideous. Most poets were really unattractive, with the one exception being Tennyson, who has wonderful bone structure.”
On Sunday afternoon, while Clara rehearsed with the St. Michael's Singers for a service of Lenten meditation in the new cathedral, I wandered through the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by German bombs on the night of November 14, 1940. The ruins of the cathedral are still consecrated ground, and are an important part of the symbolism of resurrection, reconciliation, and peace that are central to the new cathedral's ministry.
I have to admit that I find genuine medieval cathedrals, like Winchester and Lichfield, more inspiring than the dated, early-Sixties modernism of the new Coventry Cathedral. But there is something very moving in the spirit behind it. The St. Michael's Singers performed Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna, which in that space was particularly beautiful and apt.
Outside the cathedral, there was a crowd of youths, all dressed in black, swarming around the ruins and milling around on the cathedral steps. There were about two dozen all together. As I wandered through the ruins, I was momentarily harassed by a small group of them, who of course were making unpleasant comments about my "ginger" hair. After the concert, I came out to find that the glass had been broken out of one of the message boards in from of the cathedral. In this photograph, which takes in both the new cathedral and the ruins of the old, you may be able to see some of the trash the crowd left behind, strewn under Epstein's sculpture of St. Michael and the devil.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
In what looks like a bit of a faux pas, the Bank of England has chosen this year—the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edward Elgar—to replace Elgar's picture on the reverse of the £20 note. In a periodic redesign intended to combat forgery, Elgar and Worcester Cathedral will be replaced on the £20 with economist Adam Smith and a picture of a pin factory. (Elgar was preceded on the £20 note by scientist Michael Faraday.) In a little over a month, I'll report to you from Worcester Cathedral (Clara and the St. Michael's Singers are giving a concert there with the English String Orchestra) and, perhaps, the nearby Elgar birthplace.
Meanwhile, this has been a week of great music. On Tuesday evening, I had the treat of listening to the University of Warwick orchestra and chorus perform Elgar's "The Music Makers" and Mahler's massive second symphony. My niece Margaret was shining in the violin section, and in the viola section I spotted Harold Wyber, a member of the University of Warwick's University Challenge team, which pulled off a thrilling 165-160 victory over the University of East Anglia three weeks ago. The Mahler second was thrilling, too, and loud, anchored by a particularly good horn section.
Last night, Clara and I drove down to Tewkesbury again for a concert in the abbey by the choral group The Sixteen–part of their annual Choral Pilgrimage, which takes them to various cathedrals and major churches around Great Britain to perform a special programme of choral music. This year, it was glorious music by sixteenth century papal composers Palestrina, Felice Anerio, and Allegri, in a programme called "Music from the Sistine Chapel." It was heavenly to sit in Tewkesbury Abbey, under the decorated Gothic vault of the nave, listening to one of the greatest choral groups in the world. The high points were Allegri's famous Miserere, with breathtaking high-Cs provided by soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, and Anerio's Stabat Mater. Most of the works performed at the concert are available on CD.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Marghanita Laski's The Village was first published in 1952, and has recently been reissued by Persephone Books, but I picked up an old book club edition from the early 1950s at the Staffs Bookshop in Lichfield. I didn't know what to expect, and I was very pleasantly surprised. The novel opens at the end of World War II. Peace has just been declared, and the people of Priory Dean are celebrating—all except Mrs. Trevor and Mrs. Wilson, who, as they have done for the past six years, take up their posts at the Red Cross and spend the evening chatting over cups of tea. Mrs. Trevor is a member of the village gentry, with an old house on Priory Hill. Before the war, working-class Mrs. Wilson from down on Station Road was Mrs. Trevor's "char," but the war has brought them together. Now the war is over, and the village faces new challenges as it struggles to piece together its crumbling class structure. It's difficult, especially now that the gentry are struggling to make ends meet and the sons of the working class—the Poor People—are bringing home fifteen quid a week. Soon Churchill and the Conservatives are out and Labour is in—bringing to power working class men like Aneurin Bevan, architect of the National Health Service and far-left bogeyman to the Tories. But the cracks in the old class system really begin to show when Miss Margaret Trevor and Roy Wilson fall in love. It's a wonderful story—beautifully written, bitter and hilarious, full of tenderness and anger—about the end, for better or worse, of a traditional way of life. Sarah Crompton wrote in the Daily Telegraph: "If anyone asked me to describe life in post-war Britain, I would suggest they read The Village, a story of lovers divided by class that tells you more about the subtle gradations of life in the Home Counties and the cataclysmic changes wrought by war and a Labour government than any number of plays by J.B. Priestley or more famous tomes by Greene and Waugh."
All Saints Church, Chilvers Coton, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire. The church were Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) was baptized; it appears on the cover of the new Wordsworth Classics edition (2007) of Scenes of Clerical Life, in which it is fictionalized as Shepperton Church.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Clara and I walked down to Warwick today and climbed the tower of St. Mary's church: 53 meters high, 160 steps, with marvelous views from the top of the surrounding area. Below are some photographs: the steps up to the tower; me at the top (with the spire of St. Nicholas Church in the background); Warwick Castle from the top of the tower; the castle and the church tower from St. Nicholas Park; the Saxon Mill pub; Clara recovering with a pint of Old Speckled Hen at the Saxon Mill pub.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Among the great features of English churches are the mural monuments, the often beautifully sculpted memorial plaques that line the walls of most old churches. The monuments often indicate that the person memorialized is interred nearby, but often the plaques commemorate someone who is buried elsewhere. Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey is full of this latter kind of mural monument (for example, the memorial to William Shakespeare, who is actually buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon).
In Bath Abbey, Clara discovered a memorial to someone named Manley Power. Bath Abbey was crammed with mural monuments—one indication of the wealth of the inhabitants of Bath in the eighteenth century. I love mural monuments for the small glimpses they provide of otherwise unknown or little-known lives. In Lichfield Cathedral, fairly easy to miss just inside the visitor's entrance, is this memorial to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu—buried elsewhere, but important to the woman who erected the monument (click photo to enlarge for more detail).
The Right Honorable
Lady MARY WORTLEY MONTAGUE
Who happily introduced from Turkey
into this country
The Salutary Art
Of inoculating the Small-Pox.
Convinc'd of its Efficacy
She first tried it with Success
On her own Children
And then recommended the practice of it
To her fellow-Citizens.
Then by her Example and Advice
We have soften'd the Virulence
And escaped the danger of this malignant Disease.
To perpetuate the Memory of such Benevolence,
And express her Gratitude
For the benefit She herself has receiv'd
From the alleviating Art,
This Monument is rerected
Relict of THEODORE WILLIAM INGE, Esq.r.
And Daughter of Sir JOHN WROTTESLEY Baronet
In the Year of OUR LORD MDCCLXXXIX
A Turkish postage stamp (1967), showing inoculation for smallpox. The procedure is also known as variolation, and Lady Wortley Montagu called it "ingrafting."
The monument in Lichfield Cathedral was erected in 1789. In the previous decade, a devastating smallpox epidemic had swept through America, coinciding with the Revolutionary War. That story is told by Elizabeth Anne Fenn in Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-1782. The effects of that epidemic were mitigated by a program of inoculation carried out by George Washington, who as a young man had been exposed to smallpox on a visit to the Caribbean, and who had learned about inoculation for smallpox. Inoculation meant that an incision was made in a healthy patient and a small amount of live smallpox (in the form of pus from an infected person) was introduced into the wound to build up an immunity. A hospital for smallpox inoculation had been in existence in Virginia since 1767, and its work was as controversial as Lady Wortley Montagu's earlier efforts were in London. Most people were afraid that inoculation—deliberate exposure to smallpox—would spread the disease rather than prevent it. And it was true that, if an adequate period of quarantine wasn't observed after the inoculation, the disease could be spread.
One of the most famous literary cases of smallpox is probably that of Esther Summerson, in Charles Dickens' Bleak House. She is left permanently scarred by the disease. In the eighteenth-century, women who had been scarred by smallpox sometimes resorted to black patches to cover the most prominent pock marks. The picture at left is a detail from the series of paintings The Rake's Progress, by William Hogarth (now part of a major Hogarth exhibit at the Tate Britain in London, through the end of April). This woman, a harlot who would have been exposed to numerous diseases, has several such patches on her face.
*Dr. Edward Jenner's discovery was not inoculation, but vaccination: using the related cowpox virus instead of smallpox to produce immunity.
Lichfield is a lovely town in Staffordshire that with some important eighteenth century literary connections: Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield, and the town was at various times the home of Joseph Addison, the great Shakespearean actor David Garrick, the poet Anna Seward ("the Swan of Lichfield"), and Erasmus Darwin—scientist, poet, and grandfather of Charles Darwin. Lichfield also has an impressive cathedral—England's only three-spired cathedral. The building was heavily damaged in the English Civil War, which raged with particular intensity around Lichfield, and major restorations were undertaken under the direction of the great Victorian architect, Gilbert Scott.
The Sleeping Children. A famous monument to two young sisters who died in 1812.
The Herckenrode Glass in the Lady Chapel. This fine 16th century Flemish glass was purchased for the cathedral in the early 19th century (click to enlarge for more detail). The glass was removed from France during the French Revolution, and eventually made its way to London. For a recent BBC story about 16th c. European (in this case, German) glass in an English church, click here.
The house where Samuel Johnson was born in 1709. This father was a bookseller in Lichfield. There is still a small used book shop on the ground floor.
The Tudor of Lichfield tea rooms, where we had tea after our arrival in Lichfield. The building was built in 1510. There was extensive street work going on in Lichfield when we visited. The streets of Lichfield were laid out in a grid pattern by Roger de Clinton, the Bishop of Lichfield from 1129 to 1148.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
In the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Kenilworth, near the gatehouse of the ruined abbey of St. Mary, this headstone stands over the grave of Edward Herbert Draper (d. 1911) and his wife Elsie (d. 1924). The stone is the work of the great twentieth-century English artist, Eric Gill (1882-1940). In 1900, Gill began to train as an architect in London, but soon decided to learn stonemasonry and calligraphy. It was as a stone cutter—creating monuments such as this one—that Gill began his career. Later, beginning in the 1920s, he began designing typefaces—the most famous being Perpetua (1926) and Gill Sans (1927-1930), the official typeface of the BBC (see below). As a sculptor, Gill's first major work was the series of fourteen bas relief plaques of the stations of the cross in Westminster Cathedral (1914-1918).
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
For a little variety, here's something only about a hundred years old. In 1905, this corrugated iron church, St. Barnabas, was erected on Albion Street as a mission church of St. Nicholas, the ancient parish church in Abbey Fields. Albion Street was, and is, a working-class neighborhood, with characterless apartment buildings, a convenience store, and—in the span of less than half a mile—five pubs. There's the Albion Tavern, the British Legion Club (visible across from the church), the Wyandotte Inn, the Cottage Inn, and the Engine (near the railroad tracks). We often go to the friendly butcher shop and greengrocer on Albion Street, and on Monday we stopped for lunch at the Cottage Inn. The smoke-filled pub was full of pensioners enjoying their senior citizen's discount, and a Royal Mail postman stood a few feet away from our table sipping his Carling and playing the fruit machine (i.e., a slot machine). I had a big plate of sausage, egg, and chips and a pint of bitter. This was another typically English experience. More typical, in fact, than attending church. At the end of the Victorian age, most residents of this neighborhood got no further on Sunday mornings than their favorite local pub, and the temperance-minded Church of England decided that the solution was to build a mission church on Albion Street. The church offered Bible study for "men and lads" on Sunday afternoons and a temperance meeting on Mondays. Judging from the crowds spilling from the Wyandotte across the street on Sundays, a hundred years of having St. Barnabas in the neighborhood hasn't hurt business at the local pubs.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
It's difficult to go anywhere in England without encountering a memorial to some literary figure—a birthplace, a tomb, a church memorial, a house, the scene of some fiction. Westminster Abbey is full of tombs and memorials of some of the most famous, but many of these literary figures are obscure or entirely forgotten. In Warwick, for example, there was the birthplace of Walter Savage Landor, and in the Collegiate Church of St. Mary there was his bust, in a niche in a column along the south side of the nave. Under the bust was a copy of his most famous poem, the epigrammatic "Rose Aylmer:"
AH, what avails the sceptred race!
Ah, what the form divine!
What every virtue, every grace!
Rose Aylmer, all were thine.
Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes
May weep, but never see,
A night of memories and sighs
I consecrate to thee.
The poem was written in memory of a young friend in Wales who died of cholera. Poor old Landor ended up, near the end of his long life, living with his dog in Bath, receiving literary visitors more famous than himself, and eventually being hounded out of town after he was accused of libelling a woman who had cheated him out of money. He's buried in Florence, and is generally forgotten.
The Dinah Craik Memorial in Tewkesbury Abbey (click to enlarge for more detail).
Likewise forgotten is Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (1826-1887), a memorial to whom I discovered in Tewkesbury Abbey. She was born in Shropshire, the daughter of a Dissenting clergyman, and became a writer of the kind of sentimental and moralistic novels that went over well with the Victorians. Her best-known novel is John Halifax, Gentleman (1857), which is set in a fictionalized Tewkesbury (the mill where part of the action is set is still there). An earlier novel, Olive (1850), is available now in an Oxford World Classics edition, dusted off because of its feminist subject matter (it's about a disabled woman in Victorian England who struggles to become an artist). Few people read Craik these days, but after her death a committee was set up to fund a memorial to her in Tewkesbury Abbey. The committee included Tennyson, Browning, Matthew Arnold, John Everett Millais, and T.H. Huxley. If you click on the photograph, you may be able to make out part of the inscription: "A Tribute to Work of Noble Aim and to a Gracious Life." Beneath her portrait, it says, helpfully: "She Wrote John Halifax, Gentleman."
I'm a fan of obscure English women writers, especially those from the first half of the twentieth century whose novels have been published in the Virago Modern Classics series and, more recently, in Persephone Books editions. Recently, I read Barbara Comyns' Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, a lively novel with a harrowing and memorable description of childbirth in a London hospital, ca. 1940. Comyns was born not far from here, in Bidford-on-Avon, and wrote an eccentric book (full of intentional misspellings) about her eccentric childhood in Bidford, called Sisters By a River (Virago Modern Classics).
Total Lunar Eclipse
Saturday, March 3, 2007
We, along with many people in Britain, got a good look at last night's total lunar eclipse. The night sky was miraculously clear. This remarkable photograph comes from the Associated Press (click to enlarge).
Saturday, March 03, 2007
The Priory Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Deerhurst, Gloucestershire. The building at right was part of the monastic complex; it and the church form two sides of what would have been the cloisters.
About three miles south of Tewkesbury lies the tiny village of Deerhurst. In Tewkesbury, the abbey was full of tourists, and Tewkesbury itself is a busy tourist town with traffic constantly flowing down the main street. Clara and I had Deerhurst to ourselves, and I could almost feel that I was being transported to another age. There were no other cars in Deerhurst, which lies at the end of a single-lane road, and its quiet and seclusion added to its atmosphere of antiquity. The church in Deerhurst dates back to the eighth century; in other words, it's Saxon, built before the Norman Conquest. In Saxon times, Deerhurst was an important monastery. It was here that St. Alphege (martyred 1012) began his monastic career, although he found his fellow monks at Deerhurst too lax in their observance of their vows. St. Alphege went on to become Bishop of Winchester, and ended his life as Archbishop of Canterbury.
In the early eleventh century, England was oveerrun with Danes. In 1012, the Danes raided Canterbury and took Archbishop Alphege captive. When he refused to pay a huge ransom for his release from the cathedral's funds, he was killed with an axe. Four years later, the Danish King Cnute and the English King Edmund Ironside had reached a standoff, so they met at Deerhurst to negotiate a division of the kingdom between them.
The Saxon Church
The view back toward the front door. Notice the pointed Saxon double window.
The finest surviving Anglo-Saxon baptismal font.
In the middle of the eleventh century, The Deerhust priory became attached to the Abbey of St. Denis in France, and most of its revenues went to the mother abbey. During the Hundred Years War, this association with France caused Deerhurst to be labeled an "alien house," and Henry VI confiscated its wealth. Nevertheless, the church still contains two remarkable medieval survivals: a fourteenth-century stained glass window depicting Sts. Catherine and Alphege, and some superb medieval brasses of Sir John Cassey and his wife, Dame Alice (ca. 1400). Brass rubbing is still permitted, upon approval. The photographs below are high-quality, and can be clicked for an enlargement and more detail. Unfortunately, the stained glass does not appear to be in very good condition.
Odda's Chapel, Deerhurst.
Deerhurst is unusual in that it has two Saxon churches. The second is a small chapel, known as Odda's Chapel, built by a Saxon earl in 1056. A dedication stone found nearby (now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) says, in Latin: "Earl Odda ordered this royal hall to be built and dedicated in honour of the Holy Trinity and for the soul of his brother Aelfric, who died in this place. Bishop Ealdred dedicated it on 12 April. The fourteenth year of Edward, King of the English." The chapel was discovered in the nineteenth century under the Elizabethan plaster of the attached house.
Clara sang in Tewkesbury Abbey with the St. Michael's Singers in December, but it was evening, and the magnificent fourteenth-century stained glass was dark. I've been curious to see the abbey since seeing Shakespeare's Henry VI, since it was at Tewkesbury that the Lancastrians met their final defeat in May 1471. In the Battle of Tewkesbury, the Yorkist forces of Edward IV met the Lancastrian forces of Henry VI, led by his wife, Queen Margaret, and his son Edward, the Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales was killed in the battle, and is buried in the quire of Tewkesbury Abbey. The Lancastrians who took refuge in the abbey were brutally slaughtered.
It's difficult to imagine war and bloodshed within the peaceful walls of Tewkesbury Abbey. The nave is a stunning combination of heavy Norman columns and arches from the twelfth century, and ornate mid-fourteenth century Decorated Gothic vaulting in the roof. Much of the Gothic decoration dates from the time of Hugh Le Despenser, who fought with Edward III at Crécy and is buried in the remarkable tomb pictured at left. Three generations, and not quite a century later, the Beauchamp Chantry (or "Warwick Chapel," pictured right) was built by Isabella le Despenser (see yesterday's post). Both the Le Despenser Tomb and the Beauchamp Chantry are on the left (north) side of the presbytery.
The east window (The Last Judgement). Click to enlarge for more detail.
The glory of the Tewkesbury presbytery (the area that contains the high altar) are the mid-fouteenth century stained glass windows. The main east window, with its crowning rose, depicts the Last Judgement, and contains a portrait of the window's donor, Eleanor le Despenser. Her husband, Hugh (the father of the Hugh mentioned above), was a favorite of the unpopular Edward II. His influence on the king led to his execution at the hands of disgruntled barons in 1326.
In 1540, when Henry VIII dissolved the Benedictine religious community at Tewkesbury Abbey, the citizens of Tewkesbury banded together and raised £453 to purchase the building for use as a parish church.