Third Eutopy:
Thomas Traherne in Credenhill

Msftedit 5.41.21.2509;Utopia is as ‘Eutopy’ Does (q.v. www.eutopism.co.uk)
 

 
In previous episodes we have sojourned in two good-places-to-be, in two eutopies for the child:

  • In nineteenth Century New Lanark, where the children were educated without punishment and resisting the fetishism of the book; and
  • In Summerhill, an C20th libertarian experiment, running, apparently waywardly, contrary to conventional educational principles.

We turn now to an adult who concentrated his mind wholly on the Paradise lost in his childhood - either forsworn or wrested from him - which became the Paradise found again in adulthood.

The Childhood of Thomas Traherne

“I am Happy Here on Earth, in Credenhill”

“The First Convincing Depiction of Childhood in English Literature”

The Oxford Companion to English Literature declares that:

Thomas Traherne expresses an [unmatched] rapturous joy in creation… and his memories, in the Centuries, of his own early intuitions are the first convincing depiction of childhood in English literature.

One scholar has suggested that Thomas Traherne might have used the title The Way of Felicity for his book, had he ever thought of publishing it, but the manuscript was lost for several centuries, until it emerged, with neither title nor author’s name, in a secondhand bookshop in 1897.

The finders entitled it Centuries of Meditation. More manuscripts, were snatched from a blazing rubbish tip in 1964. The story of the writing and discovery of this and other manuscripts was a concatenation of breathtaking coincidentiality. One modern editor, Julia Smith, eschewing the word ‘Centuries’, has entitled her collection Select Meditations (September 2009).

The Glory and Wisdom of Childhood

One early admirer, Edward Thomas, shortly after the publication of Centuries in 1908, declared:

No other writer has expressed as well as Thomas Traherne the spiritual glory of childhood.

Another admirer, Arthur Quiller Couch states:

The first and last word [on] Traherne himself… is that he carries into a sustained ecstasy this adoration of the wisdom of childhood… and it is truly marvellous how this man can harp so long and so elaborately on one string.

And a third, C.S.Lewis, declares it to be:

almost the most beautiful book in English”.

Sweet and Pure Apprehensions

Looking back from adulthood, a century before Wordsworth, Thomas Traherne recalls:

Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had in my infancy, and that divine light wherewith I was born, are the best unto this day wherein I can see the universe. Certainly Adam in paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world than when I was a child. The corn was orient and immortal wheat which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold… The green trees when I saw them first… transported and ravished me; their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy… The men! O, what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And the young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty. Boys and girls tumbling in the street were moving jewels… All things abided eternally in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the Light of the Day, and something infinite behind every thing appeared… I remember them till now. Verily they form the greatest gift His wisdom could bestow, for without them all other gifts had been dead and vain. They are unattainable by books…

Also in the physical world, in the city of Hereford:

… in the light of day… something infinite behind everything appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in heaven. The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces,

and in considering the whole universe:

The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the world was mine, and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it.

Eclipse of the Light: “… the Evil Influence of a Bad Education”

However:

The first light which shined in my infancy in its primitive and innocent clarity was totally eclipsed: insomuch that I was fain to learn all again. If you ask me how it was eclipsed? Truly by the customs and manners of men, which, like contrary winds, blew it out… By a whole sea of… concernments that covered and drowned it: finally by the evil influence of a bad education that did not foster and cherish it.

Great Offense… Making Felicity Consist in Negatives

Felicity is a thing coveted of all. The whole world is taken with the beauty of it: and he is no man, but a stock or stone, that does not desire it. Nevertheless, great offense hath been done by the philosophers and scandal given through their blindness, man making Felicity to consist in negatives… For it is an Affront of Nature.

The Dirty Devices of this World Unlearned

I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds nor divisions. But all proprieties and divisions were mine, all treasures and the possessors of them.

So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devises of this world which now I unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again, that I may enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

“All my Time Clearly to Oneself”

For the adult Thomas Traherne, the Kingdom of Heaven comprised of:

… Being silent seated among trees and meads and hills… I chose rather to live upon ten pounds a year, and to go in leather clothes, and feed upon bread and water, so that I might have all my time clearly to myself.

A Trahernian Distinction between ‘Utopian’ and ‘Eutopist’

There are, I have long thought, two kinds of Christians; there are those who look forward to happiness in the world to come, and there are those who desire it in the here and now, as much as in the Hereafter. I, of course, am of the second kind, and regard the first with suspicion. I pray that God’s grace be with me always: a life of Sabbath here beneath, continual jubilees and joys, the days of Heaven while we breathe on earth. I am happy here on earth, in Credenhill. God hath provided what is good and beautiful for me here in abundance.

Return to Home Page

 
 
 

© Copyright Bryn Purdy,
Originally published 24.07.09