Friday, May 31, 2013

A beautiful facsimile

I've been trying to post this blog for days now. It's settled: May has been the busiest month this year. What with a beach trip and two classes and physical therapy and editing and naps, I simply didn't get inspired to blog very often. But before May ends (in a few hours), I wanted to give you a suggestion for some reading best done while sitting outside on a late spring day watching birds busy about from branch to ground to fence post. If yours is like ours, the back yard is half shade and half sun since the leaves have come in, with the screened porch, thankfully, being under the shady half. Harvey the beagle is curled on the rug beside me, snoring. The cats are together on the end of the bed inside. And I'm kicked back in a soft chair enjoying a warm day before the thick Georgia summer sets in.

The book I want to tell you about has hand-lettered text and soft illustrations throughout that make it as much a book of artwork as anything. Now that so much is available to read electronically, it's difficult to know which books to buy hardcopies of. But this is one I'll always hold on to. As the next best thing to the original, the hardcopy facsimile will always be better in person than it would be on screen. Plus, it's a classic and bestseller, for what that's worth, though I'd never heard of it when I bought it. It's called The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, and was written and illustrated by Edith Holden.

In what is basically a journal (the title page calls it a "naturalist's diary"), you'll find pages and pages of quoted poetry, comments about the weather, notes on what was blooming and what sorts of animals were showing themselves in each season, all done with a subdued, pretty penmanship during Edith's stay in Warwickshire. Best of all, it's filled with lovely, anatomically correct illustrations of the natural things she saw in the world around her. Never intended for publication, over fifty years after her death (which, according to the book, came when she "died tragically by drowning in the Thames, while gathering buds from chestnut trees"), her journal, used by her as a text for her students, was published, and it sold like crazy. Lots of other marketing stuff followed, but the book is undoubtedly the real magic. Another, Nature Notes, was published later, but I've yet to add it to my collection.

I don't know what the appeal for everyone else has been, but for me, it's the personal touch, the advanced skill, the observations, the fact that it took time to create and that that time is represented so literally, but most of all, it reminds me that every day, every month, every season is worth stopping to notice.

Here are a few pages so you can see for yourself, but it's nothing like sitting back on the porch with birds singing around you as you flip through what is, in the end, a very personal work by a teacher and children's book illustrator. (For more information about Edith and lots more pictures, click here.)


"While Earth herself is adorning
     This sweet May morning,
And the children are culling
     On every side
In a thousand valleys far and wide,
Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm
And the Babe leaps up on its mother's arm--

Then sing ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song
And let the young lambs bound as to the tabor's sound
We in thought will join your throng
     Ye that pipe and ye that play
     Ye that through your hearts today
     Feel the gladness of the May."

From Ode, by Wordsworth, as quoted in The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady