THERE is quite a lot of noise about silence at the moment.
Quietness suits me better. Silence cuts out the wind in the plum
trees, Mozart, etc. Is quietness the diminutive of silence? Not to
me. It is too great for that. Dean Swift said that the best doctors
in the world were Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman.
Not that I take my quiet medicinally. It lies around me in various
states of non-noisiness, which are broken now and then by the white
cat falling off a radiator.
I am doing duty in the long walk, a three-hour job once a year,
when the winter litter is raked up and the spring grass made ready
for the mower. All kinds of destinations lead from it: for my
badgers, the way to the boundary stream; for me, the way out. I try
not to stick to the narrow way so as to avoid making a bare patch.
A couple of cuts and the long walk will deserve being written in
capitals. But not yet. Though the grass is green. The badgers snout
about in it for worms.
Such winter-spring skies; such rowdy birds travelling across
them, blown-about gulls and the like. Such shafts of sunshine. Yet
an April quietness prevails. And the clean grass looks hopeful.
Soon, I must come in and correct some proofs. To do this, I must
stop reading, and follow the text line by line. This is a nice,
mechanical task that takes ages, and that cannot be hurried. And is
best done in silence, or at least quietly. The study clock ticks
through the sentences and would miss out tea, given a chance.
Now and then I think of popes, archbishops, etc., settling in,
hang- ing up their new clothes, staring at their new names on the
envelopes, trying out their new blessings in the mirror. St Jerome
said: "The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without
speaking confess the secrets of the heart." He also said, reading
Ephesians: "Never look a gift horse in the mouth."
So, what must I read, with Easter passed? With my proofs done?
With the birds kicking up a row? With the angel announcing Mary's
pregnancy? With bluebells budding in Arger Fen? With the long walk
looking a treat?
First, I must finish William Morris's Icelandic
Journals, which are not as cold as they sound. Warm-hearted,
in fact. He was 37, and losing his wife to Dante Gabriel Rossetti;
so, drawn by the sagas to an unlikely destination, he set sail for
- Iceland. And its surprising flowers. Famous as the author of
The Earthly Paradise, he was received by the Icelanders
with honour and love.
The Victorians journeyed to Iceland in order to find a society
nobler than their own. Not a paradise, necessarily, but a better
place than Dickens's Britain, and its gross materialism. Morris
arrived there in July 1871. Now read on. He returned two months
later: "So there I was in London at last, well washed, and finding
nobody I cared for dead," and his head full of flowers, and his
pockets full of diary, and his heart full of Socialism - a dear,
great, still young man. "Topsy" to his friends, and an antidote to
our current thinking.