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From Paddington to Penzance: In the Footsteps of C.G. Harper

2. Preface

We begin with Harper's small-minded whining over what others who have written chronicles of their travels. A friend advises him not to write of his own travels as other have laid down their "dull records of uneventful days."

Harper refuses, and sets off on his walk. He refuses to look into his fellow travel writers until her returns.
Then he attacks them with a vengeance.

First on the block is Elihu Burritt , (1810 to 1879) an American writer, politician, philanthropist and blacksmith. President Abraham Lincoln made him a consul in Birmingham, Britain and Burritt wrote about those experience in a book entitled Walks in the Black Country and Its Green Border-Land (1868). Burritt has a poetic streak and his descriptions of Birmingham in industrial Britain give one a glimpse of what it might have been like in those times. I have lived and worked in Birmingham. Much of it was still dirty and black in the late 1960s,. It's grimy factories belching smoke were still a part of it's character. The green border-land (including Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Cotswolds and the like) is of course, a stark contrast, and indeed all around Birmingham can be found beautiful rolling hills. I am familiar with a number of walks in and around Hopwood where I lived with an uncle and aunt of mine for some time. The walks included a canal with a huge long tunnel, some beautiful fields (including a view of the Cadbury family estate) and a fine pub or two.

Here's how Burritt describes Birmingham in his opening sentence: "The Black Country, black by day and red by night, cannot be matched, for vast and varied production, by any other space of equal radius on the surface of the globe." To me that brilliantly conjures up dark satanic mills, never resting, swallowing up hundreds of hapless workers, as the capitalist machine gears up to conquer the world.

Harper calls Burritt a "solemn Yankee prig" with "stodgy descriptions" of agriculture. One "runs headlong upon that true republican's awkward raptures over titled aristocracy. The rest is all a welter of cheap facts and interjectional essays in the obvious."

I come to the defense of Burritt. He describes his project at the outset promising a description of the area .(It was actually originally written for his government.) If you want to know of Birmingham and the agricultural pursuits of the surrounding countryside in the 19th century as seen by a sympathetic foreigner, Burritt's your man.

Prig? Perhaps the epithet should go to Harper on this one.

The next victim is Walter White, who wrote A Londoner's Walk to Land's End" (1855)

3. Paddington to Richmond

4. Richmond, Ham House and thereabouts including a pub or two, Petersham Church, Fanny Burney and more.

5. New Forest


 1. Back to Harper Introduction

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Page created: February 3, 2009