Quilting Tales

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From “Blankets” Graphic Novel by Craig Thompson

I’ve always been fascinated by patchwork quilts. I’ve never made one, mainly because I’ve been unable to make friends with a sewing machine. Knitting, stitching, no problem, but put me in front of a machine and I’ll spend hours struggling with spools and tension and broken needles.

But that doesn’t stop me appreciating the patience and the love that goes into quilting, and what it says about a relationship when you offer your work up to someone else. The scraps of material tell stories, first about where they came from and secondly about how you arrange them and present them. Thirdly, a layer of meaning is added by the way the recipient values and uses the quilt.

Quilts are beautiful in their own right – humble scraps of material transformed by a thrifty alchemy into works of art. One of the most moving examples I ever encountered was in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year. It was made for an inspirational guide leader by her troop, from the scraps they could salvage in a Japanese internment camp in World War II. Quilts have been used in political activism, or offered as dowries in marriage. Different countries have developed strikingly different styles – some based on applique, others on tessellating pieces into intricate repeating patterns. In days gone by, sometimes yet another level of meaning was added by the paper templates used to cut the shapes. Love letters, for example, might find their way into the quilt that covered a marriage bed, or remain as a folorn reminder of a future wished for but unattainable.

The Last RunawayI have read two very different books in the last week or two that develop this theme of quilting. The first, Tracy Chevalier’s latest novel, “The Last Runaway” tells the story of a Quaker girl from mid 19th Century Dorset who decides to emigrate with her sister to America after a youthful love affair goes wrong and leaves her shamed and vulnerable at home. But things don’t go as planned, and when her sister dies she finds herself trapped in an unfamiliar country. Her position in the household of her planned brother-in-law, whose new partner sees her as a threat, becomes so untenable that she is forced into an unpromising marriage to a local man. Only her skill with a needle makes her feel valued in her new community.

Tracy Chevalier is very sensitive to the subtle but deep cultural differences between American and English social behaviour. Many of her observations ring true today. Honor, her quiet heroine, finds herself startled by the directness of American social interaction, slightly revolted by an excess of sugary and salty food and, most seriously of all, placed in a moral dilemma when she discovers runaway slaves sheltering on her husband’s property. I wasn’t aware that, in the years leading up to the American Civil War, there were severe penalties for people in the North who were caught harbouring slaves. The family that Honor has married into has already lost a home and a father under such circumstances, so despite their Quaker ideals they forbid Honor to get involved, an instruction she finds it impossible to obey.

Quilts feature throughout the book, as a symbol of what Honor feels she has lost, and the alienness of what she now has to adapt to. Twelve quilts are demanded of her as a dowry, and she is forced to write home and ask old friends to return the ones she has given them for this purpose, something she naturally finds deeply painful to do. Quilting parties are held, involving the entire community, for a couple about to marry. Honor finds the American custom of appliqued designs, rather than the painstaking English method, a symbol of all she finds alienating and superficial about her new neighbours until she gets to know them better. She struggles to relate to the black people she meets without causing offence on either side, and becomes involved with a tough but kind milliner and her “mean sonofabitch” slave-hunter brother, who is problematically attracted to Honor herself. The solution comes in a very American fashion that offers Honor and her new husband an opportunity to make a fresh beginning. That is, in itself, a solution that feels right  in a country that seems to be in a state of perpetual flux. Ohio is both a staging post on the Underground Railroad and a temporary stopover to those heading out West; very few people seem to stay there permanently, and the quilt, whether in a farmhouse or in a wagon, becomes an emblem of the search for a place to belong.

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From “Blankets” by Craig Thompson

My second quilt book was equally American, but set in the more recent years of the 1990s. It’s a graphic novel, but very different from your usual celebration of Spandex and superpowers. An autobiographical account, it introduces us to Craig Thompson, growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family from which he feels increasingly alienated. Blankets are a recurring theme in its pages – there’s the blanket he reluctantly shares with his younger brother, crammed into the bedroom of a poor, isolated rural home, the blanket of snow that covers the ground through the magical weeks of a stay with his first love, Raine, and the quilt that she makes for him as a token of that love. Word and image combine to create a rich tapestry of meaning, and many people will recognise Craig’s experiences of love and loss, his struggles with youthful obsessions and temptations, his conflicted feelings about sex and his sense of alienation. Raine becomes the focal point of many of these struggles and for a while she seems to offer him everything he could ever need, but she has problems with her own family to work out. This is a subtle, profound and very touching exploration of youth and first love, and there are no clear-cut winners and losers. The characters are so real that they leap of the page and it stays in the mind and the heart for a very long time. Ultimately, the quilt that Raine gives Craig comes to symbolise even more than their youthful infatuation; it resembles his own commitment to make his mark on the world, to leave something personal and authentic behind him: “How satisfying it is to make a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement, no matter how temporary.”

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Nobody has done more to popularise the beauty of quilting in recent times than the immensely talented Kaffe Fassett. While in London last week, I went with a friend to the new Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey to see an exhibition of his work. Bermondsey nestles at the southern end of Tower Bridge, a warren of characterful terraced houses and winding streets that somehow manages to accommodate the recent arrival of The Shard into its atmosphere of general eclecticism. The exhibition covered all the aspects of Fassett’s creativity, including knitting and needlepoint, but it was the quilts that stood out for me. It was wonderful to get up close and appreciate the subtlety of the interlocking patterns and his masterful use of colour. Some of them seemed to leap into three-dimensional life when viewed from a distance, and to see the great man himself directing a quilting workshop was icing on an already-wonderful cake. It’s lovely to see these very personal and historical handicrafts enjoying an renaissance and we’re blessed to have a genius like Kaffe Fassett to add colour to our modern world.

Soane’s Museum – it’s bigger on the inside!

Sir John Soane's House
Sir John Soane’s House (Photo credit: roryrory)

One of the things I love about London is its wealth of small, relatively obscure museums. I’ve written previously about Dr Johnson’s house, and just a few streets away, tucked into a quiet terrace in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, is the remarkable Sir John Soane’s Museum, which I was lucky enough to visit last weekend.

Portrait-Of-Sir-John-Soane-1753-1837Born in 1753, Soane rose from humble beginnings as a bricklayer’s son to become the Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy, and one of the leading cultural authorities of the late Georgian age (he died in the year of Victoria’s accession to the throne). As a young man, he had won a scholarship to Italy, where he spent two years studying Roman ruins, an experience that was to influence him profoundly throughout his professional career. He was beginning to make his way as an architect, and had married and started a family, when he came into a life-changing fortune, and he spent it on amassing a collection of antiquities which came to fill first one, then a second and finally a third terraced house.

Image from http://www.travellious.com
http://www.travellious.com/art_outside_the_box_sir_john_soane_museum

These three houses served several purposes. First, they were his family home, secondly they were a workplace for himself and a growing number of students of architecture, whose offices were there. But perhaps most importantly, he saw his collection as a highly didactic legacy, a place where future generations could experience what was best in the classical tradition, and use it to inspire their work.

This was the age of the Enlightenment, when people sincerely believed that mankind was ultimately perfectible, as long as people were exposed to high culture and dedicated to emulating and eventually surpassing the glories of the ancient world. It was also the age of wealthy people amassing huge collections of antiquities, with rather fewer of the moral scruples we have now about raiding others’ heritage. Soane’s house is a reminder that the British Museum itself developed from such endeavours, and in fact he proved to have rather deeper pockets than the BM on at least one remarkable occasion, when he paid £2000 for an Egyptian sarcophagus, now on display in his cellar.

He probably wasn’t an easy man; he was eccentric, opinionated, determined, and inclined at times to hold a grudge. He was devoted to his wife, but the four sons he had hoped would inherit his mantle were a disappointment to him. Two died in infancy, one in early adulthood, and the fourth was a gambler and a wastrel. Worse still, he attacked his father publicly and Soane never forgave him, not so much because it hurt his vanity as because he was convinced it led to the premature death of his beloved wife.

But out of Soane’s unsatisfactory family life comes our gain as a nation, because he left his home and its amazing contents to the public in perpetuity. Words, and even pictures, hardly do justice to this astonishing place, which draws gasps repeatedly from the parties touring around it, as they squeeze themselves into tiny corners and discover walls that open up to reveal two, and even three, layers of priceless paintings. Soane thought nothing of building a room with a gap between the walls and the ceiling and filling it with glass to get the light right, or installing a suspended dome and up to 100 mirrors in a modest breakfast room. He gleefully exploited every visual trick going to extend rooms beyond their original limits. He was so well-connected that Turner used to come along to his lectures and hold up pictures to illustrate important points – a sort of living Power Point presentation. And when he held a party to show off his new sarcophagus, it lasted three days and involved renting thousands of lamps to get the effect exactly right. Beneath the staid personage who designed the interior of the Bank of England lurked the soul of a showman.

Readers of this blog will know that I’m always intrigued when I find echoes of the iconic character of the Doctor in British culture. There’s something very English indeed about the magpie-like antiquarianism of the Time Lord’s wanderings and many of us have enjoyed imagining the vast halls of the TARDIS crammed with an eclectic collection of objects. Well, the very phrase “bigger on the inside” could have been invented for Soane’s house. So audacious and creative is his use of space that it really does feel at times as though he’s figured out a way to make multiple dimensions of space and time collapse in on themselves to cram everything into his astonishing home. You don’t have to venture far into the Soane Museum to lose all sense of direction as he challenges your perception of the apparently fixed realities of walls and ceilings. And you have to go there to appreciate it fully. There is no substitute.

It’s also worth planning ahead to join a tour. Ours lasted 90 minutes and the guide was enthusiastic, approachable and knowledgable, pointing out many things it would have been easy to miss and setting it all in context. But you could easily spend the rest of the day poking around and trying to absorb it, and I’m not sure you ever would. It’s a place to return to again and again, and it’s free (though there is a modest charge for the guided tour). For anyone interested in that fertile period of history as the Enlightenment gave way to the more sentimental excesses of Romanticism, Soane’s Museum is a must.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8354262/Sir-John-Soanes-Museum-the-museum-that-time-forgot.html (Note, the cloakroom and shop mentioned have now been added, but the private apartments on the upper floor as still not, as yet, restored.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/video/2011/sep/08/sir-john-soanes-museum Brief video (under 5 mins) that really captures the place’s atmosphere and its slightly creepy appeal

 

Something So Right – The Afterglow of London 2012

 

We Brits are a modest lot, disinclined to toot our own horn even when congratulations are well deserved. In fact, so uneasy are we with triumphalism that we invariably inoculate ourselves against possible humiliation by talking down all great events well in advance. So, having found ourselves to be the successful hosts of the greatest party on the planet, not to mention coming third in the medal table, we’re a bit embarrassed. And wistfully hung over, reluctant to leave behind the great view of the stadium and all it has come to represent. It’s still the backdrop to the breakfast news bulletins as the last drops of comment and analysis are wrung out of London 2012.

I was always the kid who developed a tactical tummy-ache on Games day at school. Uncoordinated, over-protected and short-sighted, the last to be picked for any team, and to this day I have never mastered swimming or riding a bike. For most of my adult life, I’ve been indifferent to televised sport, and sometimes openly hostile to it. I can’t claim that the Olympics has produced a Damascene conversion, but it has got me out running at 7.00am, the BBC Olympic theme ringing from my iPod. I’ve lost enough weight recently to appreciate, just a little, what it must take to bring your body to the peak of perfection, and enjoyed the events more than I’d have believed possible.

The Opening Ceremony remains the highlight for me, particularly the ethereal beauty of Caliban’s Dream as the cauldron was ignited late on that magical evening. Danny Boyle took risks – he faced the contradictions and tensions of our multi-cultural, class-dominated, tense and occasionally grudging society head on, and out of that dissonance produced something extraordinary and creative.

The Closing Ceremony was an altogether more predictable affair, and it lacked the focus of Boyle’s event. The image of Essex Girls trampling over our literary heritage came a bit too close to home as we returned to a culture that glorifies five minutes of X-Factor inspired fame over many years of self-discipline and graft. I’m sorry if that sounds joyless, and I won’t deny that it was a great party and definitely had its moments. Brian May ought to get a gold medal for guitar playing, and how can you not love the image of Eric Idle popping out of a cannon and turning out to be in much better vocal shape than some of his rock-god contemporaries? In the end, it was a party and like all parties, you had to be there to really appreciate it.

For a good chunk of the two golden weeks I was out of the country, hiking in the Swiss Alps. I was fit, but not quite fit enough. I came back energised and raring to go, recognising what I’ve already achieved on the long journey to fitness and a healthy weight, but excited about taking it to the next level. And it occurs to me that, as we blearily recover from this extraordinary event, blinking like marmots emerging from our little holes into the light of achievement, that there are two ways this could go. You can see it as a party, good fun at the time but with little to show for it other than headaches and a mess to clear up (and possibly some hazy, drunken memories of Boris dancing to the Spice Girls, no doubt already an Internet meme). Or you can see it as the right kind of holiday – both relaxing and energising at the same time, revealing just how much we are capable of when we are pulled into an endeavour that, unlike so many initiatives that are launched with great fanfare and little substance (the Big Society, anyone?), could actually motivate us to aim higher, and become nicer, healthier and happier people.

Modesty and self-deprecation, those British characteristics, aren’t normally associated with New Yorkers. But if I was putting together my own London 2012 montage, I’d pick Paul Simon to express the national mood of the moment. It may not be a stadium anthem, but it fits like a pair of old sneakers:

If something goes wrong, I’m the first to admit it,

The first to admit it, and the last one to know.

If something goes right, it’s liable to lose me

It’s apt to confuse me, ‘cause it’s such an unusual sight.

Can’t get used to something so right, something so right.

 

One’s House – the illusion of intimacy with the Royal Family

There was an extraordinary moment towards the end of the Jubilee Concert a couple of days ago when the band Madness, playing on the roof of Buckingham Palace, launched into their hit Our House and the familiar façade apparently peeled back as the images of a London block of flats and a row of terraced houses were projected onto it. The illusion deepened when a further layer apparently rolled back to reveal figures going about their daily life in cramped, ordinary English rooms.

In the emotion of a public event of this magnitude drawing to a climax, there’s a tendency to overlook such symbolism, but for those few minutes a vital part of the English relationship with the Royal Family – as opposed to the more abstract institution of “the monarchy” was laid bare. Normally, the front of Buck House is opaque and unyielding and we can only speculate on the nature of everyday life behind it. But the British public crave the illusion of intimacy and communion with their iconic figures, and pounce on any conceivable narrative to convince themselves that there is something ordinary about the Royals, a meeting point that goes to show that “they’re just like the rest of us.”

From that point of view, the hospitalization of Prince Philip, though undoubtedly unfortunate, was a gift. The way it was accepted and handled by both press and public showed how much the Royal Family has learned about public relations since their bungling of Diana’s death in the 1990s. It seems almost unbelievable that the notoriously stuffy and politically incorrect Duke of Edinburgh can inspire such affection that a huge crowd was chanting his name in solidarity, urged by the unlikely figure of the Prince of Wales.

A bit of mystery is PR gold, because it tantalizes with the endless fascination of imagining that one can occasionally peel back the veil. Diana challenged that ideology with the notorious Panorama interview which, though sensational at the time, has with the benefit of hindsight come to be regarded as a monumental error of taste and good judgement. We do not really want to be privy to the intimate details of Royal feelings; we prefer a screen on which we can project our chosen fantasies – Establishment iconography with a human face.

As Marina Hyde observes in the Guardian, the temporary widowhood of the Queen was precisely the kind of bittersweet narrative that captures the public imagination. They’re just like us. They have lonely grannies, embarrassing second-division relatives who don’t always know how to behave in church (yes, we’re looking at you in That Hat, Eugenie), high-spirited youngsters who eventually grow up and marry nice, sensible girls and the double-think necessary in order to overlook an awkward history and eventually draw second spouses into the inner circle. “How extraordinary,” the Queen is supposed to have observed (according to the Telegraph) as she opened her balcony doors to see the Mall lined with well-wishers. She probably sees herself as simply doing her job, and finds it more than a little bewildering that it should lead to such an outpouring of public affection. Perhaps what really “humbles” her is the yawning gulf between the reality of her role as she experiences it and what the people down there perceive it to be.

The real star of the Jubilee weekend was Brand Britain, symbolised by a number of facets of our history and national identity. The Royal Family was at its heart, but London in all its grey and scarlet familiarity, its skies white with cloud and unshed rain, was also transformed into a riot of colour and celebration. It has never looked more beautiful. And it’s all ours. Our house, in the middle of our world. In a world where Britain seems less and less important, it’s nice, and probably healthy, to indulge ourselves once in a while, even if we are celebrating a glorious past rather than an uncertain future.

We yield at once, with humbled mein

Because, with all our faults, we love our Queen.

(W S Gilbert, The Pirates of Penzance)

How Not to Cover a Royal Occasion: the wasted opportunity of the Thames Pageant

“The River Thames with St Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day, detail of St Paul’s Cathedral, c-1747-48” by Canaletto, said to be the inspiration for the Diamond Jubilee Thames River Pageant

The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,

Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;

Purple the sails, and so perfumed that

The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,

Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made

The water which they beat to follow faster,

As amorous of their strokes….

Anthony and Cleopatra, Act II, Scene II

Shakespeare would have been familiar with the sight of Elizabeth I travelling past Southwark in her royal barge, and it’s likely he drew on those memories in writing this famous speech about a monarch in a more forgiving climate. It’s history like this that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck when I thought about the potential of the Siver Jubilee Thames Pageant.

There are few things that England remains renowned for in these days of fading glory. Pageantry, history, royalty, London, the BBC. The Pageant was the ideal opportunity to showcase all these to a hopefully envious worldwide audience. So did it deliver? The weather was unco-operative, which was predictable in a British summer. Gilded magnificence was replaced by shots of crowds in plastic macs braving torrential rain and a faintly ridiculous choir singing Land of Hope and Glory, clearly soaked and frozen. Yet there were still visual delights – the scale of the event, the perfect setting, the unashamed and slightly vulgar opulence of the royal barge and Kate Middleton’s stunning outfit – the Firm definitely did the right thing snapping her up.

But the biggest disappointment, I felt, was the shallowness of the television coverage. In their defence, the technical problems of covering such a huge event in filthy weather must be considerable, but their lamentable efforts don’t auger well for the Olympics. From the moment the BBC referred to the monarch as “HRH the Queen” the coverage was a catalogue of inanities and inexcusable errors. Occasionally, as when Anneka Rice was rendered mute by some truly awful paintings, this was hilarious. But most of the time it was inexcusable. If you’re covering an unpredictable, enormous event that could be running late and you know it could be pissing down, do your research! Every boat on the river had a story behind it, and very few were told. There were numerous opportunities for background features that would have vastly enriched the audience’s understanding as we travelled through seven miles incomparably rich in history and spectacle. Overseas viewers, who might have been attracted to all that London has to offer, even in the worst of weather, were left ignorant of the event’s historical background and significance. (And before you say that sounds boring, how many times did we hear the same lines about how happy the Queen looked?)

This would have mattered less if the commentators had had enough material to keep their coverage interesting, but this was manifestly not the case. They were left increasingly uncomfortable, frustrated and devoid of intelligent things to say. A few pre-recorded inserts would have relieved the pressure on them and made watching the spectacle a much richer experience. Instead we got the usual shallow celebrity-driven twaddle.

Never before have I switched to Sky for coverage of a milestone royal occasion, and I felt like a bit of a media whore doing it. They weren’t as dismally bad as the BBC, but even so it could all have been done so much better. Have we really lost our sense of national identity to such an extent? Is the TV industry so crammed with cynicism and inverted snobbery these days that they are in danger of throwing away the chance to showcase our country’s last remaining export? I’m no great flag-waving monarchist but it seems that the grass-roots enthusiasm for the Jubilee celebrations has not been matched by the commitment of broadcasters, or even the minimal standard of professionalism viewers are entitled to expect. American TV isn’t known for its intellectual sophistication but their coverage of Obama’s inauguration was done to a far higher standard. Patriotism isn’t always an embarrassment or a dirty word.

I hope that by now the Queen is having a much-deserved break somewhere warm and comfy with a hot toddy at her elbow. She deserved better. Her Tudor namesake would probably have ordered “Off with their head!” for less. She knew a thing or two about image management, and I suspect she could spot a fawning twat from the opposite bank of the Thames.

Official Pageant Website (don’t miss the delightful animation)

Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames: exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

“Sir, when a man is tired of London he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life affords.”

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for He...
Image via Wikipedia

It is a truly horrible day weatherwise – wind and rain pounding against the windows in true autumnal fashion. If this keeps going until lunchtime, my first day back at work in the school library will be manically busy. I am trying not to be an over-protective parent and worry about my daughter going off to school on her bike without a coat or anything to keep her files dry.

This seems as good a time as any to revisit my last trip to London, back at the end of July. Although I went for my usual purpose of seeing a lot of Shakespeare (Richard III with Kevin Spacey at the Vic, Much Ado About Nothing in the West End and Doctor Faustus – okay, not Shakespeare, that one – at the Globe), an unexpected highlight of my trip turned out to be this lovely small museum in a quiet court off Fleet Street.

For an Eng Lit graduate, I was until recently shamefully ignorant of Samuel Johnson’s life and works. I have tended to favour the early modern period and the 19th Century over the Augustan age. However, Gough Square, a delightful house run by an independent charity,  has changed that. The first thing you notice is the change in atmosphere as you leave one of London’s busy main streets and wander through narrow passages into this peaceful square – a world away, it seems, from commercial and legal London. The house itself has been well restored with a real feel for the period and a wealth of contemporary portraits. Upon entering the downstairs study, two of the most interesting items are the cupboard where you stored and powdered your wig before venturing out, and a portrait of Frank Richards, the Jamaican servant who was educated by Johnson and became a valued friend to him – he had no patience with slavery or racism and expressed strong views on both in his lifetime – along with many other subjects.

On the top floor of the house is the attic where, with a team of six helpers, Johnson undertook the Herculean labour of compiling his famous Dictionary from 1749 to 1755. In an age before word processing you cannot help but pity him when, after months of work, he had to start again from scratch because the filing system in notebooks that he had devised turned out to be quite inadequate to the task. Sadly, his wife Elizabeth Porter, who was a lot older than him, did not live to see his task completed. It made him famous overnight.

Johnson struggled throughout his life with financial problems and physical and mental difficulties. His writings frequently mention severe bouts of melancholy (which we would now call depression) when he was almost unable to drag himself out of bed, and suffered crippling insomnia that led him to seek company out compulsively to divert his mind from the fears that assailed him. An intensely religious man, he was deeply critical of himself. It also seems likely that he suffered from Tourette’s syndrome. There are many contemporary references to his ungainliness, his strange mannerisms and tics and his habit of blurting out embarrassing and peculiar remarks in company. People were frequently shocked upon first meeting him but those who persevered found him a deeply loyal, kind and stimulating friend. Many of those closest to him were women – it is impossible to know with certainty whether there was a sexual attraction, but Hester Thrale in particular was a lifeline in his later years and he lived at her family home in Southwark and Streatham from Monday to Friday for almost twenty years.

Boswell, of course, is known as his companion and biographer, though as Bozzie was a Scottish lawyer Johnson saw rather less of him than we might think. (Their Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides, undertaken when Johnson was 62, is a classic of travel literature). It is Boswell who gives us the richest picture of his domestic habits, which included Johnson sneaking out at night to buy oysters for his beloved cat Hodge, reluctant to ask the household servants in case they mocked his devotion! There is a nice little statue of Hodge at the end of the Square.

Johnson was usually only one step ahead of his creditors and in the mid-1750s he left Gough Square and moved to cheaper lodgings in Bolt Court (Beryl Bainbridge describes his strange menage of hangers-on in her novel According to Queeny). The attic was badly damaged in the Second World War, but there are interesting  momentoes of its role as a much-needed social centre for the courageous London Fire Service, who had no official refuge from the terrible pressures of their work in the Blitz until it was offered to them as a canteen and arts club. This public-spirited gesture on the part of the Custodian of the property probably ensured its survival – it took more than one direct hit. I think that Johnson, with his habit of taking in the marginalised, needy and sometimes frankly odd, would have approved.

It’s impossible not to be inspired by Johnson’s monumental achievements once you know what problems he had to overcome – poverty and illness in particular. He is a triumphant example of someone whose brilliant mind, trapped in an unco-operative body, might have disqualified a person of less character and courage from living a full and productive life, yet by sheer determination he became the literary star of his day. His works are no longer widely read but his command of the English language was unsurpassed and he remains gloriously and eminantly quoteable.

All the performances of human art, at which we look with praise or wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance: it is by this that the quarry becomes a pyramid, and that distant countries are united with canals. If a man was to compare the effect of a single stroke of the pick-axe, or of one impression of the spade, with the general design and last result, he would be overwhelmed by the sense of their disproportion; yet those petty operations, incessantly continued, in time surmount the greatest difficulties, and mountains are levelled, and oceans bounded, by the slender force of human beings.
It is therefore of the utmost importance that those, who have any intention of deviating from the beaten roads of life, and acquiring a reputation superior to names hourly swept away by time among the refuse of fame, should add to their reason, and their spirit, the power of persisting in their purposes; acquire the art of sapping what they cannot batter, and the habit of vanquishing obstinate resistance by obstinate attacks.

The Rambler, No.43 (17 August 1750)