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This article is taken from PN Review 59, Volume 14 Number 3, January - February 1988.

Enclosure Acts: The idea of biographical space Paul Carter

The value of books, like villages, lies in the trade they promote. Henry James Pye's Faringdon Hill helped make him Poet Laureate to George III. But since, few poems have been more completely deserted by readers. Pope would have found in Pye a dunce of 'Dulness' superior even to Colly Cibber. Robert Southey described himself 'rhyming as doggedly and dully as if my name has been Henry James Pye'. More forcefully promoted, he might have survived as the figure of flatness. At home, not even an epitaph commemorates his limping muse: for two centuries local people have continued to climb the 'Hill' as if he had never been there. Throughout my childhood I did so myself.

Returning to childhood places, there is a temptation to discover a community of interest. The condition of the world before it became visible seems impossible to recover. Instead there are buildings, a ladder and a paint-pot. For the first time behind the church tower a crow's silhouette. The road is up, wires whipcrack and disappear into the hole. One cannot see the wakes of bicycles because of the wall's detail crowding in. And as for the game of football, there are boys playing football as if anything might happen. There is nothing numinous about the sunset. The dull resistance of the streets impresses on the exile nothing so much as the imminence of his own death, the irremediable distance.

Private, like public, memorabilia preserve only the visual residue. Diary ...


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