Friday, February 8, 2019

Country Life

The often light-hearted rivalry between town and country goes back a long ways.  My formal introduction to it was through the City Mouse and Country Mouse articles which appeared in the United Kingdom editions of Country Life magazine.

"Country Life was launched in 1897, incorporating Racing Illustrated. At this time it was owned by Edward Hudson, the owner of Lindisfarne Castle and various Lutyens-designed houses including The Deanery Sonning."

What however I hadn't anticipated encountering quite so serendipitously was the echo of that competitive theme in the De Coverley Papers (published around 1711). It instantly reminded me - as a learned and affluent friend of mine had lately commented - that the more one widens the bounds of intelligence, the less one is convinced of knowing (a similar observation I have seen credited to Albert Einstein, Aristotle and Socrates). The source of the quip doesn't diminish its strength and inspiration.

"Sir Roger de Coverley, fictional character, devised by Joseph Addison who portrayed him as the ostensible author of papers and letters that were published in Addison and Richard Steele ’s influential periodical The Spectator. As imagined by Addison, Sir Roger was a baronet of Worcestershire and was meant to represent a typical landed country gentleman. He was also a member of the fictitious Spectator Club, and the de Coverley writings included entertaining vignettes of early 18th-century English life that were often considered The Spectator ’s best feature."

"Thus in Addison’s hands (and in Budgell’s, in the three contributions for which he is responsible) Sir Roger serves his original purpose. Through him London readers of  The Spectator were able to gain some understanding of the life — of the ways, the beliefs, the basic values — of the people of the shires. In general, the understanding gained is extended to all things pertaining to the country except, perhaps, country politics (Addison and Steele, both Whigs, promised to keep politics out of The Spectator, and for the most part they lived up to this promise, though there are two or three papers in which Sir Roger’s Toryism is satirized). The nostalgic idea that God made the country and man made the town is but another manifestation of that rising middle-class sentimentality that was so much a part of Steele. The philosophers of the age of sentiment argued the moral superiority of all things countrified, and in this moral notion the citified Addison went along with Steele. As a result, many of those twenty papers that were supposed to have been written by the Spectator while he was the guest of Sir Roger in Worcestershire are paeans to the physical, social, or moral superiority of country things."

De Coverley Papers

As utterly taken as I am by reading Sir Roger's tales, my object is not to commend either the city or country mouse but rather to add to the mix a third distinguishable element; namely, that of the sea and coastal living generally. As I lay prone late this afternoon upon a chaise longue overlooking the Gulf of Mexico - having just returned from a refreshing dip in the sea - it occurred to me that there is little which competes with the delight of a sunset upon the vast horizon heralded by a pyramid of dazzling light upon the sea.

The fortuity of the scene is a nudge to reflect upon the evolution of the past seventy years which for me has included a transition from urban to country to sea. If - as appears to be the case - this is the pinnacle of my career, then I gratefully accept and applaud the outcome. Quite frankly it is a much anticipated though equally unexpected sequel. Never have I known my predictions, persuasions or circumstances to have been exactly forthcoming as intended.

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