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This article is taken from PN Review 44, Volume 11 Number 6, July - August 1985.

All that Glisters: Geoffrey Grigson Dick Davis

In the earliest of these books by Geoffrey Grigson (Before the Romantics; An Anthology of the Enlightenment, first published in 1946 and now reissued by the Salamander Press) he writes of 'the gleam, the delight in the sharp glitter of objects, from the Cornish ore in Pope's grotto to Smart's cowslips shining like topaz . . .', and in the most recent (Recollections, 1984) he describes himself as 'this Cornish child halting on his way to a favourite trout stream and sitting in the bright sunshine on a pile of road metal, which he searched for stones sparkling with black crystal'. That love of sharp glitter, of discrete, vivid moments that seem to signal vividly from the midst of blackness, of a sudden bright vivacity that takes the eye and the heart, is constant in every book Grigson has compiled or written; it is almost his signature. Another word occurs in both the passages I quote, 'Cornish'; 'Cornish' equals Celtic, equals in Matthew Arnold's formulation the unruly and creative as against the compromising phlegmatic Anglo-Saxon, equals in the popular imagination the outsider truculently, defiantly demanding 'And shall Trelawney die?/Here's twenty thousand Cornishmen/Will know the reason why'. This is Grigson's other signature: a refusal to kowtow, a distaste for cant and compromise, but also a querulousness and cussedness, a something that looks suspiciously like Schadenfreude and delight in paying off old scores, an outsider's love of being on the inside and in the know, of humiliating his opponents - who ...


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