Second hand book shops have always been my door at the back of the wardrobe and my way through the looking glass when the “real” world is too dull or too frightening to want to spend time in. In England in late June, I picked up this wonderful book from a charity book shelf and everything about it beckoned me in.
Firstly the title “Garden of Delights” seemed to promise something half way between paradise and indulgent sticky sweet meats. Next the dark green cover hinted at rusticity and the central illustration at Art Deco decadence. The uneven rough cut edges to the thick pages were the result of a paper knife that had pains takingly slit open each sheet in study somewhere under gas light and then the anthology of poetry and prose inside spoke only of beauty in sweeping countryside and secluded gardens.
It was exactly what I needed. Writers from Shakespeare to Cowper, George Elliot to Andrew Marvel and Keats to the mysterious Melisande extolled the virtues of the garden, the beauty of the natural world and the ability of nature to consol and restore the spirit.
It was published in 1912 and as I dived into its resorative good sense and elegance, I felt a little guilty at such escapism 104 years later.
Then I looked at the inside cover and saw the neatly inscribed name : H.M. Scudamore – 1941. Who ever H.M. was during The Second World War he or she must have loved this book and needed it in far darker times than we know today.
And now in November the book, with its slightly foxed pages, blocked illustrations and musty smell, links me to HM ; to an optimistic England before the First World War; to a second hand book shop in 2016 and takes me out through the open window and on into a wet,winter French garden still hoping to escape into a timeless spring.