It is a dream… of what has never been… true, it has never been, and therefore, since the world is alive, and moving yet, my hope is the greater that it one day will be… dreams have before now come about of things so good… we scarcely think of them more than the daylight, though once people had to live without them, without even the hope of them.
These words are from William Morris the great Victorian designer. His dream was that everyone would “have his share of the best”; he longed to see art at the centre of everyone’s lives so that they might “always have pleasure in the things that they use.”
Right now (June-September 2015), there is an exhibition of the work of William Morris and his contemporaries at Compton Verney, an art gallery very close to where I live in Warwick, a place I love visiting.
I love William Morris designs (as you’ll see from a former post on this blog) and have just bought a tapestry shoulder-bag with the Strawberry Thief design on it.. True, art and design in our lives often has a monetary value; this seems to be the nature of human life.
But to me, William Morris’s dream of everyone having his or her “share of the best” is the ultimate democracy, the democracy of ‘value’ and quality of life, above all else, whatever our circumstances. As we know this dream is very far from being realised in our world. But how inspiring William Morris’s words are, and how encouraging his vision, for those of us who dream, and have high ideals.
I love Hidcote Manor Garden, near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. It’s one of the National Trust’s greatest gardens and was created by an American horticulturalist Lawrence Johnston, between 1907 and 1947.
One very special element in the garden is the Beech Allee – an avenue of majestic beeches.
Lawrence Johnston planted it knowing he’d never see the mature avenue – it was a gift to the future.
For me, it’s very moving to walk along this avenue reflecting upon how much we owe to one man’s vision and imagination.
What an encouragement this is to any creative person, who imagines things and works to bring them into reality, perhaps without ever being able to experience the final outcome, or to know how their creation may be received.
I myself have also experienced healing through prayer at The Well. Truly God has ‘unstopped the ancient wells of healing here in Leamington Spa’ for many people testify not only to physical healing through prayer, but new peace, joy and a changed attitude which transforms situations.
Many people come in through the doors of the Royal Pump Rooms on Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week, to the prayer teams who are waiting to pray with and for them; these may be people who are Christian, or who have no faith at all; they may be adults or children.
The power of prayer in every life-situation has been testified to many times. If you are experiencing a problem which you believe is intractable, I recommend that you too consider asking for prayer.
What a privilege it is for me to play a small part in helping Anne take this vision forward into the future.
Hidden in the heart of rural Warwickshire is a Saxon Sanctuary I only recently discovered.
It’s in St Peter’s Church at Wootton Wawen, situated between Henley-in-Arden and Stratford-upon-Avon. In the Lady Chapel, an exhibition tells the story of Wagen’s woodland village in the Forest of Arden.
Wagen was a Saxon lord who owned the land (the “manor”) of Wootton before 1066. And I thought of him as I looked through the exhibition. When William the Conquerer took over, he swiped that land from Wagen and gave it, (as was the way of many English monarchs) to a pal of his. In this case the lucky recipient was Robert of Tosny, Earl of Stafford. History doesn’t record what happened to Wagen.
As I wandered around the church, I mused upon the lessons of history, and whether I can learn anything from them, in my life.
Along with the Saxon Sanctuary, three other streams of thought played into my musings – a recent TV programme on the 50 greatest treasures found by members of the public; a BBC TV drama production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V”; and our planned visit to Bosworth to see the re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth where Richard III was killed, thus signalling the end for the Plantaganets and the rise of the Tudors.
Here are a few historical snippets that sprang into my mind, in no particular order:
A Viking with “bad attitude” buried his plunder meaning to come back later and collect it – but he never did. It lay in the earth until it was found by chance 1300 years later.
Henry V triumphed at Agincourt, then married Catherine daughter of the King of France. Their son Henry VI was a bit of a wash-out as a king, and would have preferred not to be king at all; he shrank from the role whereas his father had been famed for his valour. Following Henry V’s death when his son was 9 months old, Catherine went off and married Owen Tudor and thus started the Tudor dynasty.
When Richard III fought Henry Tudor at Bosworth, Henry was the rank outsider, and Richard would have been expecting to win. Shakespeare has him saying, “A horse! A horse! my kingdom for a horse!” He probably never said it but with those words Shakespeare exactly captures not only the poignancy and significance of that moment, but gives us a metaphor for human life many can recognise.
Mary I believed she’d restored Catholicism to England. She meant to secure a Catholic future – but whatever she achieved was only temporary. Her pregnancy turned out to be a phantom one, she died, and the throne passed into the hands of her protestant half-sister.
So I meditated on the fickle changes of fortune, and how they interface with our lives.
Consider the following:
What might have happened if:
– Richard III’s (metaphorical) horse had been available at the moment he needed him?
– Mary I had had a successful pregnancy which led to the birth of a healthy baby, thus securing a Catholic Tudor dynasty in England?
– if Harold had beat William at the Battle of Hastings in 1066?
– if James II had won the Battle of the Boyne?
– if Charlotte, the beautiful daughter of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, (as beloved as Princess Diana was when she died in 1997) had safely given birth to a healthy child, and lived to claim the throne and reign for 60 years, before Victoria was ever thought of?
– if Edward VIII had not met Mrs Simpson?
Some of these events could be interpreted as arising from errors of judgement and human failings; others from quirky twists of fate.
Many potentially great or significant people have been swallowed up by fate and removed from the arena of the world; and thus prevented from affecting the destiny of the human race. Shakespeare was well aware of that.
So what do I deduce from this? And is this something that can apply to anyone who has a dream or vision or sets out upon a course of action with a great goal in mind – such as a creative writer who would like their words to be read by many?
Simply that success or failure is not determined by hard work and striving.
Certainly “hard work and striving” cannot just be dispensed with. But perhaps we have to live with a healthy knowledge that that they may in a moment be swept away, and rendered irrelevant, by a quirky twist of fate.
What do you think? Do you share my fatalism? Or are you a historian who disagrees with my interpretation of English history? Do consider leaving a comment!
As I watched The Diamond Jubilee River Pageant on TV and tried to work out whether I wished I was there, or whether I was glad not to be, I remembered these words in a radio interview several months ago. ‘I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.’
I was listening to a bestselling novelist speaking about his recent success in winning a major book award. Among the many things he said which touched and amused me, the most striking was this reply to the interviewer’s question, ‘Now you’ve won this prestigious award, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?’
Then, looking at the Queen and her immediate family on the royal barge, I found myself thinking, “I wish I was on the royal barge, watching everything pass by for my benefit.” And in the same moment I wondered whether William, Catherine and Harry felt slightly wistful and wished perhaps they were out there on the river, rowing some of those boats instead of standing on a floating version of Buckingham Palace being gracious and removed and “on the outside looking in”.
Would I have liked to be hanging over a bridge in the pouring rain catching perhaps a two second glimpse of a white figure amongst gold and crimson? Or was it much better to be viewing the entire panorama from a warm dry living room and hearing all the commentaries and flashing back and forth between different viewpoints as we do sometimes in a great novel?
We rarely strike the balance between the excitement of real moments, and the enjoyment of long perspective, and full appreciation of whichever situation we are in.
We cannot always be outsiders looking in. Sometimes it’s necessary to get involved, and come alongside. I believe both can co-exist simultaneously. There is in fact never a time when a writer is so fully involved, he or she cannot at some future time stand back and write about it. Every experience, no matter how negative or difficult, can prove raw material for a writer because in the act of writing a story you are often drawing upon unconscious material.
In the world you have to participate. But you can also observe. The truth lies in paradox. Thus the most successful creative people can literally be, in the eyes of the world, on the inside. Of course they have arrived! And yet they can sometimes feel they are always on the outside looking in, whether that be from the glamour of a royal barge, up on a bridge, or in a temporary TV studio.
What are your thoughts on this? As ever I love to have your comments!