Stephen Medcalf (1937-2006) 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 sly 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.show more