Ireland’s books: The Sussex Bedside Anthology

Bought in his latter years, one of the books on Ireland’s shelves was a sizeable collection of writings with the title The Sussex Bedside Anthology. Edited by Margaret Goldsworthy, it was published by the Arundel Press in 1950. It is a very appealing and rich book, full of
literary references to Sussex. One recurring writer in this book is Esther Meynell.

Esther Meynell with her daughter Joanna, c.1919, Ditchling. Photograph: http://www.ditchlinghistoryproject.org/

Meynell (1876–1955) was born Esther Moorhouse in Yorkshire, moving to Sussex in 1886. In 1911 she married Gerard Tukes Meynell, who was then running the Westminster Press in Patcham. Gerard Meynell was part of the literary Meynell dynasty, the nephew of Wilfrid and Alice of Greatham, near Pulborough, Alice a poet set on a number of occasions by Ireland, notably in Songs Sacred and Profane.

Esther herself lived for a time near Pulborough and settled in Ditchling. She wrote biographies of Bach, Abraham Lincoln, William Morris, Nelson and Wordsworth and several music-inspired novels, including A Grave Fairytale, Quintet, Time’s Door and Lucy and Amades. She also produced several important books on the county of Sussex. A Sussex Cottage (1937) and Building a Cottage (1937) mainly focus on her two houses at Ditchling, while her other two works, Sussex (1947), and Small Talk in Sussex (1954) have a broader remit.

The Sussex Bedside Anthology contains several passages from Meynell’s writings on Sussex, among them this wonderful Irelandesque description of the layers of the county:

Sussex is a palimpsest wherein one writing lies upon the top of another – the writing first of God, and then of man…that is what the chalk does, holds the records perdurably. That is why Sussex, whose most memorable and lovely geologic feature in the chalk hills called the South Downs, is no notable a repository and storehouse of the writings of Early Man. The Downs, so large and simple and peaceful in their outline against the sky, so mysterious and unchanging through all their mutations of atmosphere, of sea and cloud and sea-mist, are haunted – haunted  by the men who first found their home and their sepulture there.

South Downs escarpment at Devil's Dyke

South Downs escarpment at Devil’s Dyke © Copyright Nick Macneill / Creative Commons Licence.

 

 

 

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