Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Bridge at Avignon

Everyone has heard of the famous bridge which does not cross the river Rhone at Avignon, in the south of France. The well-known song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon" dates back at least to the 16th century, in a number of differenr versions. 
  The bridge itself was constructed in the 12th century by Saint Benezet (the Provencal version of the name "Benedict"), a humble shepherd boy who, according to legend, heard angelic voices calling him to go to Avignon and build a bridge. Questioned by the local bishop, he proved his divine inspiration by lifting, single-handed, an enormous block of stone to start the project. Wharever the truth behind this story, work on the bridge began in 1177 and it was completed eight years later.
   The picture below gives a misleading impression of the vast scale of the project. What appears to be the far bank is in fact a long, narrow island in the middle of the Rhone, which did not exist in the 12th century. In fact the bridge ran all the way to the white tower seen on the right: almost a thousand yards long, with 22 arches, running in an S-shaped curve so as to base the piers on avialable shoals of gravel in the river bed. 
But currents in the river meant the shoals kept shifting, and arches in the bridge collapsed several times over the centuries. This problem was intensified in the 14th century, as temperatures began to fall in what is known as "the Little Ice Age". After 1680 the bridge was abandoned.
   The tower is all that remains of a castle built by Philip IV of France (Philippe le Bel) in 1302, to control the river crossing. He was, incidentally, the King who destroyed the Templar knights, and was responsible for bringing the Popes to Avignon.

   Halfway along what is left of the bridge today is the little chapel of Saint Nicholas. A lower chapel used to contain the relics of Saint Benezet, but these were lost in the French Revolution.

The bridge today provides a fine view of the cathedral and the Palace of the Popes; provided there are not too many crowds of tourists!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Bodnant Gardens in May

Bodnant gardens in May are a riot of colour.

Bodnant gardens lie a few miles south of Conwy in north Wales. The gardens were originally created by Henry Pochin, a Victorian chemist and businessman, who bought the estate in 1874. It was inherited by his daughter Laura and her husband Charles McLaren, a barrister and Liberal M.P. who was created Lord Aberconway in 1911. Three generations of their family then extended the gardens, building the terraces and collecting exotic plants from around the world. The estate greatly benefited from the work of three generations of head gardeners, Frederick, Martin and Charles Puddle, who were in charge continuously from 1920 to 2005.
    The estate was given to the National Trust in 1948. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

C. S. Lewis Chronology, with some of his many books given in italics (F = fiction)

1898  Clive Staples Lewis, known to his friends as "Jack", is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the younger son of Albert Lewis, a police court solicitor. His brother Warren ("Warnie") is 3 years older.
1908 After the death of his mother Flora from cancer, CSL is sent to Wynyard school in England, leaving after 2 years when the school is closed.
1913 CSL joins Warnie at Malvern College, but hates it so much he is taken away next year. He spends the next 3 years being privately tutored by W.T. Kirkpatrick
1917 CSL wins a scholarship to Universiy College, Oxford, but is soon called up for service in the army. During training, meets Paddy Moore and his mother, Janie Moore ("Minto")
1918 Paddy Moore reported missing in action. CSL wounded at Battle of Arras and invalided back to England.
1919 CSL resumes studies at Oxford and begins a mysterious relationship with Minto Moore which lasts for the rest of her life.
1920-22 CSL gains a First Class degree in Classics ("Mods" and "Greats"). He stays on at Oxford to read English.
1923 Awarded a First Class degree in English
1925 Elected Fellow and Tutor in English at Magdalen College
1926 CSL meets J.R.R. Tolkien, the Professor of Anglo-Saxon
1929 Albert Lewis dies. Tolkien shows CSL some of his writings, which form part of the "Silmarillion" cycle. CSL responds enthusiastically  
1930 CSL, Warnie and Minto pool their resources to buy the Kilns, a house with extensive grounds on the outskirts of Oxford 
1931 CSL by his own account becomes a believing Christian. He begins to write books of popular theology.
1932 Around this time, CSL and Tolkien resolve to write heroic fantasy stories 
1933 "The Pilgrim's Regress" (F)
1936 "The Allegory of Love: A Study in Mediaeval Tradition"
1936 CSL meets Charles Williams, the author of several mystical novels
1937 Tolkien publishes "The Hobbit"
1938 Around this time, the Inklings group begins to meet regularly at CSL's rooms at Magdalen on Thursday evenings. and also at the "Eagle and Child" pub at lunchtimes.  Regular members include CSL, Warnie, Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, Humphrey Havard, Owen Barfield and others. Tolkien begins to write "The Lord of the Rings", reading extracts to the group
1938 "Out of the Silent Planet" (F)
1939 Charles Williams moves to Oxford and joins the Inklings. 
1940 "The Problem of Pain" 
1941 "The Screwtape Letters" (F); dedicated to Tolkien
1943 "Perelandra" (F); later retitled "Voyage to Venus"
1945 Charles Williams dies
1945 "That Hideous Strength" (F)
1946 "The Great Divorce" (F)
1947 "Miracles"
1949 Tolkien completes "The Lord of the Rings" and lends CSL the manuscript (Published in 3 volumes 1954-5). Around this time, the Inklings cease to meet regularly
1949-53 The seven Narnia stories written (F) They are: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", "Prince Caspian", "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader", "The Silver Chair", "The Horse and His Boy", "The Magician's Nephew" and "The Last Battle" (Published in this order 1950-6) 
1951 Minto Moore dies
1952 Joy Davidman visits Oxford and meets CSL
1952 "Mere Christianity"
1953 Warnie Lewis writes the first of a series of books on 17th century France 
1954 "English Literature in the 16th Century, Excluding Drama"
1954 CSL is appointed Professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University; but continues to live mostly at the Kilns. 
1955 "Surprised by Joy"; An Autobiography
1956 CSL marries Joy Davidman
1956 "Till We Have Faces" (F) 
1960 CSL and Joy visit Athens. In October, Joy dies of cancer
1961 "A Grief Observed" 
1961 "An Experiment in Criticism"
1962 "The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature" (Published posthumously, 1964)
1963 CSL retires from his Cambridge professorship. In November, CSL dies (the same day as President Kennedy is shot) Warnie Lewis devotes the rest of his life to organising the C.S. Lewis archive.

  Tolkien and C.S. Lewis drfited apart after the war. Tolkien thought that Charles Williams's mysticism had a bad influence on Lewis's writing, especially "That Hideous Strength"; and he never really liked the Narnia stories. Also, as a strict Roman Catholic, Tolkien could not reconcile himself to Lewis's marriage to Joy Davidman, a divorcee. But, as he wrote to one of his children after hearing of Lewis's death, "We owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie, with the deep affection that it begot, remained. He was a great man of whom that cold-blooded official obituaries have only scraped the surface".