Ireland’s books: The Spirit of the Downs

On Ireland’s bookshelves was Arthur Beckett’s The Spirit of the Downs. First published in 1909, the composer owned it in a 1924 edition – similar to the one shown left – so  it was therefore available to hand to inform his later Sussex-related pieces such as Legend.

Beckett  was a founder of the South Downs Society in 1923 and a collector of the songs of the area, as well as writing about Sussex.  This volume consists of impressions and reminiscences of the downs, often coloured by his sensitivity to the ancient history of the countryside. The book is permeated with imaginary conversations, for example between two Romans in the surviving villa at Bignor.

A review of this book in the Spectator said: ‘We like Mr. Beckett better when he really does what he tells us in his introduction he set out to do,—when he walks from village to village through the open Downland, talking to shepherds and carters and tramps. We come nearer “the Spirit” of Downland villages when we read of country soup made of buff fungus, and puff-balls named “Satan’s snuff-boxes,” and truffles hunted with dogs and pointed sticks ‘ (Spectator, 11 September 1909, p. 19).

Beckett also recounts country stories told to him on his journeys, for example the legend of the White Way Ghost, a small white terrier which roamed near Alfriston after he and his master were murdered. The book is illustrated with images by Stanley Inchbold, such as the one shown below.

Winchelsea Marshes

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