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This report is taken from PN Review 140, Volume 27 Number 6, July - August 2001.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams

Joan Abse, wife of the poet Dannie Abse, an art historian whose John Ruskin: the passionate moralist (1980) was widely and favourably reviewed, is the editor of one of the most fascinating books published in Wales in the year 2000. Its title, Letters from Wales (Seren), might confuse readers of PNR, but Michael Schmidt, who chose the headline for the meandering observations I contribute to the magazine, would not consider it an infringement of copyright.

The book is aptly named. Although extracts from diaries and journals are included, it is very largely a compilation of more than two hundred letters written from addresses in Wales between AD 1200 and 1997. That they are predominantly from north Wales is no surprise. In the earlier centuries this was where the balance of political power lay. In the later, tourists (seeking a cheaper experience than the Grand Tour offered, and still very much abroad in Wales) were particularly attracted to the mountains and castles of the north. The chronological arrangement of the contents and an italicised running commentary highlight the historical significance of the observations made by correspondents and diarists. The earliest are translated from Latin, the medium that connected the minds of the princes, politicians and intellectuals of medieval Europe, and a small number were originally in Welsh, but in the main they are letters written in English to addresses in England. Since seeing the sights is the travellers' main motive, scenery and the weather are constant themes. For ...
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