1930 – 2017
“It does not treat of minerals or fossils, of the virtues of plants, or the influence of planets; it does not meddle with forms of belief or systems of philosophy…” William Hazlitt 1821
The essay is part and parcel of English Literature although its formal origin is attributed to Montaigne and the French tongue. Being unconfined to any format, any school of thought, any commercial category, essayistic expression was free to develop in line with the evolving mentality of this island race. From Francis Bacon, through William Temple, Addison, Steele, Dr. Johnson, Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt and George Orwell, the essay became aligned with the entrepreneurial political and social growth of British life.
At the same time the essay has virtually disappeared from the literary scene. This is nonetheless a favourable moment for the return of the essay. Just as Britain has had to shed its pretensions to a wide-ranging empire, the essay must retreat to its most formidable core. Whilst having the greatest freedom in the choice of its subject matter, the classical essay faces the most trenchant rule in its execution. Be it about Friendship or Nobility, Bicycles or Tombs, Parents or Children, Wisdom or Stupidity, Flowers or Graveyards, it matters not. So long as it is not fiction, not history or a factual treatise, and not a flight of fancy but an original idea, coherent and relevant to our present circumstances.
Semi-Detached Britain, Hitler’s Vast Shadow, Gay Marriage, Teaching History, A Reformed House of Lords, The Sexual Divide, The Trouble with France, Parliament and the English Language are some of the examples here.
The laws concerning marriage may well form the most mysterious segment of our current legislature.
The memory of my acquaintance with this subject, reaching back well over fifty years, is still very lucid and unforgettable. Cohabiting with my girlfriend and driven by idle curiosity, I paid a visit to one of the most popular headquarters of this institution, Caxton Hall, and posed what appeared to me a simple question. I have asked one of the legal officials in charge to let me have a look at the Marriage Laws of the country. He looked straight in my eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and uttered the following highly memorable words: “We have no marriage laws.”
It took me a lot longer to come to terms with the extensive, complicated and largely insecure legal world of ‘divorce’.
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