With his characteristic enthusiasm and erudition, Peter Ackroyd follows his acclaimed London: A Biography with an inspired look into the heart and the history of the English imagination. To tell the story of its evolution, Ackroyd ranges across literature and painting, philosophy and science, architecture and music, from Anglo-Saxon times to the twentieth-century. Considering what is most English about artists as diverse as Chaucer, William Hogarth, Benjamin Britten and Viriginia Woolf, Ackroyd identifies a host of sometimes contradictory elements: pragmatism and whimsy, blood and gore, a passion for the past, a delight in eccentricity, and much more. A brilliant, engaging and often surprising narrative, Albion reveals the manifold nature of English genius.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of History eBook: Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
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|Publisher: Random House, Inc.|
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Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination
When William Wordsworth invoked "the ghostly language of the ancient earth" he spoke more, perhaps, than he knew.
The mark or symbol of the hawthorn tree is to be found in the runic alphabet of the ancient British tribes, as if the landscape propelled them into speech. The worship of the forest, and of forest forms, characterised the piety of the Druids in whose rituals the spirits of the oak, the beech and the hawthorn are honoured. According to the texts of the classical historians the centre of the Druidical caste was to be found in Britain, from whose shores the practitioners of magic sailed to the European mainland. The forest worship of the northern and Germanic tribes, who were gradually to conquer Britain from the fifth to the seventh centuries, may derive from the Druids' ministry. That is why Hippolyte Taine, the French critic and historian who in the 1860s completed a capacious history of English literature, hears the first music of England in the fine patter of rain on the oak trees.
The poetry of England is striated with the shade that the ancient trees cast, in a canopy of protection and seclusion. Thus John Lydgate, in the fifteenth-century "Complaint of the Black Knight," remarks of
Every braunche in other knet,
And ful of grene leves set,
That sonne myght there non discende
where the charm of darkness and mystery descends upon the English landscape. In the nineteenth century Tennyson recalls how
Enormous elm-tree boles did stoop and lean
Upon the dusky brushwood underneath
Their broad curved branches . . .