The Spirit of England
Selected Essays of Stephen Medcalf

Stephen Medcalf, edited by Brian Cummings and Gabriel Josipovici

Legenda (General Series)

Legenda

12 April 2010  •  306pp

ISBN: 978-1-906540-37-1 (hardback)  •  RRP £75, $99, €85

ContemporaryEnglishFictionPoetry


Stephen Medcalf (1936-2007) was an essayist, in the best traditional sense of that calling: a writer not of books but of substantial and justly celebrated essays, widely read in the Times Literary Supplement and elsewhere. Medcalf’s abiding question to the world was the Psalmist’s: ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him?’ His was a Blakean sense of Englishness, far from the chocolate-box painting or the television adaptation, and for him the strongest writers were those keenly aware of their roots in the classical, Anglo-Saxon or Celtic past. By gathering together Medcalf’s most important work, this volume shows the coherence of his thinking, and of the elusive, complicated literary heritage he celebrated, one which acknowledges the Greco-Roman strain, the Christian strain, the down-to-earth humour and the gentle irony.

Thirteen substantial essays cover Virgil, the Bible, the English translation of Alfred, Piers Plowman, the ‘half-alien culture’ of the high Middle Ages, Chaucer's contemporary Thomas Usk, Shakespeare's images of resurrection, Horace and Kipling juxtaposed, G. K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot's use of Ovid, P. G. Wodehouse, William Golding, John Betjeman, Geoffrey Hill and other writers. The book concludes with perhaps Medcalf’s most personal article of all: his account of finding a baby in a phone box on a cold winter's night, which first appeared in the Guardian Christmas Supplement in 2002.

Reviews:

  • ‘One of the more extraordinary scholars of the late twentieth century... The range of these essays is the more astonishing at a time when most critics prided themselves on their specialisms rather than their diversity. Medcalf wanted us to see things that could only be understood against the whole gamut of European literary history... Brian Cummings and Gabriel Josipovici are to be congratulated.’ — Stephen Prickett, Times Literary Supplement 26 November 2010
  • ‘A modern parable of birth and death, miraculous encounter and mysterious return, makes a fitting and beautiful conclusion to a book of which we can say, as we rarely can with such confidence, that it was written by a good and wise man.’ — Paul Dean, The New Criterion October 2010, 69-72
  • ‘Cummings and Josipovici have performed a 'mitzvah', a good deed, in editing these essays, which display a brilliant, humane mind at work. It is to be hoped that more Medcalf will be collected for the benefit of subsequent generations.’ — William Baker, Modern Language Review 106.3, July 2011, 871-73 (full text online)
  • ‘The value of this posthumous collection is that it acts as both a lament and a lantern of hope. All we have by way of a memorial are these esoteric essays – but what essays. They show a liberal humanism at its best, expansive learning worn lightly and a belief in teasing out the particularities of a panoply of works... In our bleak climate of fees and looming instrumentality for the humanities, such a voice as Medcalf’s, singing the value of thought and the non-paraphrasable nature of poetry, is as insightful as it is heartening.’ — unsigned notice, Forum for Modern Language Studies 48.1, 2012, 115
  • ‘Von solchen und literarischen Wundern berichtet das Buch, es sollte in vielen Inklings-Bibliotheken stehen und durch die Hände vieler Freunde der englischen Kultur gehen.’ — Elmar Schenkel, Inklings-Jahrbuch 29, 2011, 378-79
  • ‘Medcalf’s reflections throw great light upon Kipling, Horace, and translation.’ — unsigned review, The Year's Work in English Studies 91, 2012, 765

Bibliography entry:

Medcalf, Stephen, edited by Brian Cummings, and Gabriel Josipovici, The Spirit of England: Selected Essays of Stephen Medcalf (Cambridge: Legenda, 2010)

First footnote reference: 35 The Spirit of England: Selected Essays of Stephen Medcalf, stephen Medcalf, edited by Brian Cummings and Gabriel Josipovici (Cambridge: Legenda, 2010), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Medcalf, Cummings, and Josipovici, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Medcalf, Stephen, edited by Brian Cummings, and Gabriel Josipovici. 2010. The Spirit of England: Selected Essays of Stephen Medcalf (Cambridge: Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Medcalf, Cummings, and Josipovici 2010: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Medcalf, Cummings, and Josipovici 2010: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)


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