Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An elegant mind on the myth of elegant time

.. who, after a severely classical four years at Eton, left England for the Grand Tour in his Berlne; was speechless with shyness at Madame du Deffand's parties in Paris, bought Guideo Renis in Bologna; who admired Frederick William I's Guards in Potsdam, stepping together like giant marionettes controlled by one hand; 

who came back to England; married the daughter of a nobleman as Whig as himself or a relation; attacked Walpole or maybe Carteret; played Loo; made rotund orations, studded with Latin quotations; collected curious antiquities; laid out his gardens in accordance with the grandiloquent plans of Capability Brown; who spent half the year lounging in the windows of Brooks's and half among the oaks and elms of his country seat; who was painted in youth by Allan Ramsay, and in age by Romney; who was brought up to like Pope, but grew to prefer Ossian; who patronised Dr Johnson; who talked and wrote voluminous letters and composed compliments in verse; who laughed at the royal family and drank too much port and died.

[This] is the land of their dreams; but it is not at all like the England of the eighteenth century, the teeming, clamouring, irregular, enthralling England of the eighteenth century. In order to mould the age they love nearer to their heart's desire, they have successfully shattered it to bits. For one thing, their idea is too homogeneous. Only countries of the mind are so much of a piece. The past does not, any more than the present, escape that incompleteness, that inconsistency which is the essential characteristic of life as we know it, as opposed to life as we should like it to be.

Where better to go for a soothing shower of faith in the human mind, than to one which is so generous to the crisis of its disorder, as to have brought Cowper from the shadow of Wordsworth and restored our respect for the authenticity of his rural feeling in a cosmopolitan age. The flower of his generation of one of England's greatest families, Cecil's was a gift for the elegance of inquiry. It can be read, felt, assimilated, exercised in his legacy. Can be, ought to be, needs to be.

Lord David Cecil
The Stricken Deer
  The Life of Cowper
Constable & Co., Ltd, 1929©

i, ii  Lachowski
iii    Lauridsen

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