Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wagtail at the dam

As much as I respect the in-
centives and the challenges
of pruning one's shelves of
volumes of no foreseeable
further use, not to mention
enjoying the false compas-
sion of palming the stuff
off on the nearest charity
or shut-in, I have to count
myself among the many who
suffer for that lapse of vi-
sion. Only the other day, I
found myself pining, out of
thin air, for a book I pick-
ed up in the '70s, the way
we all used to do back then,
on a speculative browse in a
well-worn, trusted bookshop, 
deep among spines of note.

Provenance is always a part
of things, I admit, but it
was for its content that I
felt myself rather wounded,
and the airy designer maxim
of editing the habitat felt,
I have to confess, an irrit-
ating poultice. By all means
it is the worst, for no one
else to blame, such as an ef-
ficient parent, disposing of
an unhandsomely worn address
book in calf, marred by au-
tographs of every baseball
great in the National League
in one's childhood. Who'd im-
agine re-reading the signature
of Sandy Koufax, some quiet af-
ternoon in Summer, somewhere?

From time to time an available
vengeance seizes the better of
anyone in this predicament, and
the search goes forth at the u-
sual sites, to retrieve a fac-
simile of the original. I was
prompted in this way, not long
ago, to track down a volume I
missed acutely, compiling no-
thing more than Letters to the
Editor of The Times (London),
from the first 75 years of the 
previous century.

The spirit of observation, now
desolatingly lacking from pub-
lic comment, to say nothing of 
an élan of disputation, equally
moribund, merge in these letters
with an aspect of responsibility
to community which, to our ears,
enriches familiar vanity with its
inherent grace note, of comedy.
But perhaps I merely recite, in
this way, the qualities of the
English Cocker Spaniel.

I give you, for example, a modest
intervention from the Chancellor
of the Exchequer, soon to become
more eminent in another Ministry -

               January 24, 1933

               It may be of interest to record that,
               in walking through St James's Park to-
               day, I noticed a grey wagtail running
               about on the now temporarily dry bed of
               the lake, near the dam below the bridge,
               and occasionally picking small insects
               out of the cracks in the dam.
               Probably the occurrence of this bird in
               the heart of London has been recorded 
               before, but I have not previously noted
               it in the Park.

                    I am your obedient servant,
                         Neville Chamberlain

Kenneth Gregory
Your Obedient Servant
  A selection of the most witty,
  amusing and memorable let-
  ters to The Times of London,
Methuen, 1976©

Nicolas de Staël
Voiliers à Antibes

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