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TAKING ENGLAND LITERALLY
By Margaret Deefholts
For Travel Writers Tales

It is a modest little brick cottage by the side of the road—one which I could have easily missed were I not specifically looking for it. Yet, this home in Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire, was where one of England’s greatest poets and writers, John Milton, once lived and worked.


Milton’s Cottage in Chalfont St. Giles

During the outbreak of the great plague of London he took refuge here in 1665, and in the two years that he lived in this cottage he finished his epic Paradise Lost and started on Paradise Regained. The house, now a museum, showcases several first editions of his works, and the tranquil gardens are landscaped with plants and flowers that appear in his writings.


Garden, Milton’s Cottage
Milton’s statue in his garden

Impressive as that may be, what grabs my attention is that Milton introduced about 630 new words to the English language – ‘lovelorn’, ‘liturgical’, ‘padlock’, ‘terrific’, ‘odiferous’, and ‘fragrance’ – to name just a few. Literary giants, Ben Jonson and Shakespeare, by comparison are credited with coining only 558 and 229 words respectively.


Milton’s Neology – some of the words he coined and added to the English lexicon

I’m also rather tickled to note that “Milton’s Indian Restaurant” is in business directly across the street from his house. Does the ghost of the great man dine there sometimes?


“Milton’s Indian Restaurant” across the street from his cottage

England’s Lake District has inspired more than one writer and poet, but the most distinguished of these is poet William Wordsworth, and Beatrix Potter, the creator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other stories.


Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage, Grasmere, England’s Lake District


Gateway to Wordworth’s Dove Cottage Garden


Contemplation bench in the garden of Dove Cottage


Portrait of William Wordsworth in the Wordsworth Museum adjoining Dove Cottage

Dove Cottage where Wordsworth, his wife, their three children, and his sister, Dorothy lived, is a charming two-storied house. Our enthusiastic tour guide shows us through the rooms and recounts anecdotal tales about the poet and his works. The garden with its bluebells and honeysuckle creepers, is as lyrical as Wordsworth’s poetry and I’m delighted to see a bed of daffodils, gaily “fluttering and dancing in the breeze” along one of the pathways. Next door is the Wordsworth Museum and I spend the better part of ninety minutes fascinated by a display of his handwritten manuscripts, excerpts from Dorothy’s Grasmere diary, photographs and memorabilia.


View of Beatrix Potter’s “Hilltop” home in Cumbria


The entrance hallway of Hilltop, just as Beatrix Potter left it.


Deefholts browses through “The Tale of Two Bad Mice” while sitting at an alcove in Beatrix Potter’s study.


The original sketch and handwritten letter to Noel the ailing child of her former governess, which would eventually evolve into The Tale of Peter Rabbit.


Hilltop’s Garden pathway

Beatrix Potter’s home, Hill Top in Cumbria, is now a National Trust property, bequeathed on condition that it be kept intact with her furniture, personal belongings and china. The entrance stone-flagged pathway is bordered by rose bushes and plants in riotous bloom. Walking into the hall, it feels as though I’ve dropped by to visit, and she has just slipped out on an errand. I pick up one of her books and sit at an alcove, where she, too. probably sat, looking out of the window across the garden and rolling countryside. A handwritten note to her former governess’s, little boy Noel, with the very first sketches of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter, takes me back to childhood and the first time I read this delightful tale.

Unlike the romantic Wordsworth and the genteel Potter, George Bernard Shaw was an acerbic personality with a razor-sharp wit. Indeed it is impossible to capture his complex personality in a few paragraphs. His house at Ayot St. Lawrence isn’t easy to get to, and my niece who is at the wheel, drives cautiously along a narrow, winding country road bordered by hawthorne hedgerows.


Shaw’s Corner at Aot St. Lawrence


Shaw’s piano


A view of Shaw’s living room


Mantelpiece display of photographs of admired personalities including Lenin, Marx, Wagner and Gandhi.

The rooms of his house carry the imprint of a man whose Fabian socialist views were frequently controversial – and whose loyalties were often contradictory. The living room mantelpiece has a photograph of Gandhi, as well as framed shots of Lenin, Marx and Wagner. Shaw’s piano has an open music sheet on its stand and it’s as though he has merely stepped away, perhaps to sit at the desk in his cluttered study with its floor-to-ceiling bookcase.


Shaw’s cluttered library and study. A keen amateur photographer, his camera sits on top of his filing cabinet.


Shaw’s desk and portable typewriter where many a play had its beginnings.


The Oscar he won for the film adaptation of Pygmalion – he reputedly used it as a paperweight!


Nobel Prize for Literature, won in 1925


Pygmalion manuscript with Shaw’s notations

Second only to Shakespeare (whom he whimsically professed to dislike!), Shaw was England’s greatest playwright, penning more than 60 plays, and earning him a Nobel Prize for literature. Several plays were enacted both on stage and film – the most well-known being, my all time favorite, ‘My Fair Lady’. Adapted from Shaw’s Pygmalion, I am thrilled to read an excerpt from original manuscript with Shaw’s corrections in red, squiggled across his typewritten page! Pygmalion also earned Shaw an Oscar, which didn’t impress him greatly – he reportedly used it as a paper-weight!


The view of the garden from Shaw’s study


View of Shaw’s home from his garden.


Small wooden cabin at the bottom of the garden, with sparse furnishings – a desk, chair and narrow bed.

Walking along the garden pathway, and, at the very end of the lawn, is a small wooden shack much like a tool shed, but with windows. It is sparsely furnished with a desk, chair and a narrow bed. This, apparently was Shaw’s retreat, where he could write in seclusion and perhaps (literally!) dream up his next play.

________________________________

IF YOU GO:

For more information:

Milton’s Cottage - http://www.miltonscottage.org/

Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage - https://wordsworth.org.uk/visit/dove-cottage.html

& the Museum https://wordsworth.org.uk/visit/the-wordsworth-museum.html

Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop – scroll down the page for further information/links

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top/features/beatrixs-hill-top-house

Shaw’s Corner – scroll down the page for links to further information about the house at Ayot St. Lawrence https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/shaws-corner

PHOTOS by Margaret Deefholts

1. Milton’s Cottage in Chalfont St. Giles
2. Garden, Milton’s Cottage
3. Milton’s statue in his garden
4. Milton’s Neology – some of the words he coined and added to the English lexicon
5. “Milton’s Indian Restaurant” across the street from his cottage
6. Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage, Grasmere, England’s Lake District
7. Gateway to Wordworth’s Dove Cottage Garden
8. Contemplation bench in the garden of Dove Cottage
9. Portrait of William Wordsworth in the Wordsworth Museum adjoining Dove Cottage
10.View of Beatrix Potter’s “Hilltop” home in Cumbria
11. The entrance hallway of Hilltop, just as Beatrix Potter left it.
12. Deefholts browses through “The Tale of Two Bad Mice” while sitting at an alcove in Beatrix Potter’s study.
13. The original sketch and handwritten letter to Noel the ailing child of her former governess, which would eventually evolve into The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
14. Hilltop’s Garden pathway
15. Shaw’s Corner at Aot St. Lawrence
16. Shaw’s piano
17. A view of Shaw’s living room
18. Mantelpiece display of photographs of admired personalities including Lenin, Marx, Wagner and Gandhi.
19. Shaw’s cluttered library and study. A keen amateur photographer, his camera sits on top of his filing cabinet.
20. Shaw’s desk and portable typewriter where many a play had its beginnings.
21. The view of the garden from Shaw’s study
22. The Oscar he won for the film adaptation of Pygmalion – he reputedly used it as a paperweight!
23. Nobel Prize for Literature, won in 1925
24. Pygmalion manuscript with Shaw’s notations
25. View of Shaw’s home from his garden.
26. Small wooden cabin at the bottom of the garden, with sparse furnishings – a desk, chair and narrow bed.

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com

 


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