Monday, 9 September 2013

Britain's Literary Shrines

Famous Places of Pilgrimage

No.1. The shrine of shrines is the little Warwickshire town of Stratford-upon-Avon. If Westminster Abbey is the Parish Church of England, then Stratford-upon-Avon may as truthfully be described as the County town of England. Indeed it is more: wherever Shakespeare's tongue is spoken, men speak of it with reverence. The lovely stretch of country around the birthplace of Shakespeare is more typically English than any you will find throughout the Kingdom.

No.2. Dr. Johnson came to London from his native Lichfield at the age of 28 in the year 1737. He and David Garrick came up together, a fact which goes far to explain Johnson's critical love of Garrick, and Garrick's humorous love of Johnson. In all, Johnson's London homes numbered about a dozen, sadly all but one still survives. No.17, Gough Square. Here he lived for the ten years between 1748 and 1758. This house is now a permanent museum, and the seat of the Johnson Club.

No.3. It is difficult to believe now that Lord Byron who, in 1816 shook the dust of England from his feet never to return alive, and whose career and genius became a European spectacle, was born in what is now the Oxford Street shopping district of London. A plaque marks the site of his birthplace at No.16, Holles Street (sadly now the site of a John Lewis department store). Lord Byron was buried in the church of Hucknall Torkard, where his ancestors lay, close to his ancestral home Newstead Abbey.

No.4. Wordsworth at Rydal Mount: Saddened by the deaths of his two little children, Catherine and Thomas, Wordsworth wrote to Lord Lonsdale in January, 1813.

This house which I have for some time occupied is the parsonage of Grasmere. It stands close by the churchyard, and I have found it absolutely necessary that we should quit a place which by recalling to our minds at every moment the losses which we have sustained in the course of the last year would grievously retard our progress towards that tranquility which it is our duty to aim at.

Wordsworth and his family moved to Rydal Mount by Rydal Water, and there he lived for thirty-seven years until his death in 1850.

Like a fair sister of the sky
Unruffled doth the blue lake lie, 
     The mountains looking on.

To be continued.