ORWELL THE HAPPY VICAR
A Happy Vicar I Might Have Been
(a little poem written in 1935)
A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;
But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.
And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.
All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough
Could make my enemies tremble.
But girl's bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.
It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.
I am the worm who never turned,
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;
And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.
I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn't born for an age like this;
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?
~ from essay WHY I WRITE, by George Orwell, 1947
The Redemption of The Vicar of Bray
by George Orwell, 1946
Some years ago a friend took me to the little Berkshire church of which the celebrated Vicar of Bray was once the incumbent. (Actually it is a few miles from Bray, but perhaps at that time the two livings were one.) In the churchyard there stands a magnificent yew tree which, according to a notice at its foot, was planted by no less a person than the Vicar of Bray himself. And it struck me at the time as curious that such a man should have left such a relic behind him. The Vicar of Bray, though he was well equipped to be a leader-writer on THE TIMES, could hardly be described as an admirable character. Yet, after this lapse of time, all that is left of him is a comic song and a beautiful tree, which has rested the eyes of generation after generation and must surely have outweighed any bad effects which he produced by his political quislingism....
But to come back to trees. The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil. A year or two ago I wrote a few paragraphs in TRIBUNE about some sixpenny rambler roses from Woolworth’s which I had planted before the war. This brought me an indignant letter from a reader who said that roses are bourgeois, but I still think that my sixpence was better spent than if it had gone on cigarettes or even on one of the excellent Fabian Research Pamphlets.
Recently, I spent a day at the cottage where I used to live, and noted with a pleased surprise — to be exact, it was a feeling of having done good unconsciously — the progress of the things I had planted nearly ten years ago. I think it is worth recording what some of them cost, just to show what you can do with a few shillings if you invest them in something that grows.
First of all there were the two ramblers from Woolworth’s, and three polyantha roses, all at sixpence each. Then there were two bush roses which were part of a job lot from a nursery garden. This job lot consisted of six fruit trees, three rose bushes and two gooseberry bushes, all for ten shillings. One of the fruit trees and one of the rose bushes died, but the rest are all flourishing. The sum total is five fruit trees, seven roses and two gooseberry bushes, all for twelve and sixpence. These plants have not entailed much work, and have had nothing spent on them beyond the original amount. They never even received any manure, except what I occasionally collected in a bucket when one of the farm horses happened to have halted outside the gate.
Between them, in nine years, those seven rose bushes will have given what would add up to a hundred or a hundred and fifty months of bloom. The fruit trees, which were mere saplings when I put them in, are now just about getting in their stride. Last week one them, a plum, was a mass of blossom, and the apples looked as if they were going to do fairly well. What had originally been the weakling of the family, a Cox’s Orange Pippin — it would hardly have been included in the job lot if it had been a good plant — had grown into a sturdy tree with plenty of fruit spurs on it. I maintain that it was a public-spirited action to plant that Cox, for these trees do not fruit quickly and I did not expect to stay there long. I never had an apple off it myself, but it looks as if someone else will have quite a lot. By their fruits ye shall know them, and the Cox’s Orange Pippin is a good fruit to be known by.... Yet I did not plant it with the conscious intention of doing anybody a good turn. I just saw the job lot going cheap and stuck the things into the ground without much preparation.
A thing which I regret, and which I will try to remedy some time, is that I have never in my life planted a walnut. Nobody does plant them nowadays — when you see a walnut it is almost invariably an old tree. If you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who cares a damn for his grandchildren? Nor does anybody plant a quince, a mulberry or a medlar. But these are garden trees which you can only be expected to plant if you have a patch of ground of your own. On the other hand, in any hedge or in any piece of waste ground you happen to be walking through, you can do something to remedy the appalling massacre of trees, especially oaks, ashes, elms and beeches, which has happened during the war years.
Even an apple tree is liable to live for about 100 years, so that the Cox I planted in 1936 may still be bearing fruit well into the twenty-first century. An oak or a beech may live for hundreds of years and be a pleasure to thousands or tens of thousands of people before it is finally sawn up into timber. I am not suggesting that one can discharge all one’s obligations towards society by means of a private re-afforestation scheme. Still, it might not be a bad idea, every time you commit an antisocial act, to make a note of it in your diary, and then, at the appropriate season, push an acorn into the ground.
And, if even one in twenty of them came to maturity, you might do quite a lot of harm in your lifetime, and still, like the Vicar of Bray, end up as a public benefactor after all.
end quoting from The Redemption of Vicar of The Bray
WHEN CHURCH BELLS RANG (...With you being from Dorset (Bournemouth if I recall) I keep meaning to ask if you realize Orwell had close ties to Dorset. He had an uncle in Bournemouth (mother's brother) who ran a golf course there and they used to go visit in the summer when Orwell was a boy. Orwell's great-grandfather Charles Blair (married to Lady Mary, a daughter of the Earl of Westmoreland) lived in Winterborne Whitechurch, Dorset. Orwell's grandfather was born there in 1802. After being ordained an Anglican deacon in Calcutta he returned to England and was the vicar of Milborne St Andrew for thirteen years. Orwell's father, Richard, was born and baptized there in 1857. Some of Orwell's ancestors are buried in those Dorset churchyard cemetaries. Orwell contemplated moving to Dorset for his health if he got well enough to leave hospital. ~ Jackie Jura)
ORWELL'S TYPEWRITER MY GRANDFATHER'S (...My great-grandfather served the British Empire as a vicar (as did Orwell's grandfather) and when he was the Bishop of Mauritius he took his four youngest children with him. My grandfather was 4 years old at the time. See ORWELL & JURA GRANDFATHERS VICARS:
In the photo above of the mango trees my grandfather is the small child on the far right, and that's his mother (my great grandmother) standing beside them all. His father (my great grandfather) can be seen in the photo of the verandah (holding the tennis racket). My great-grandmother is sitting on the step with her sister (my grandfather's aunt) who had accompanied them to Mauritius. The third photo shows the entire household. My great-grandfather is standing in profile on the left and my great-grandmother is sitting with the children at the right. My grandfather is the third on the end with his leg hanging over the chair....~ Jackie Jura)
ORWELL'S WHITE HORSE (...All signs pointed to the White Horse of Osmington as we drove through the beachside communities. Along the way I explained to my husband that we were in George Orwell country because Eric Blair's father was born in a village in Dorset. His grandfather had been the Anglican Vicar of a beautiful old church after returning from ministering in India. I remarked that it was another coincidental thing about my ancestors and Orwell's that my great-grandfather had ALSO been an Anglican Vicar in India (actually the Bishop of Bombay) during the time that Orwell was born there in 1903. Orwell probably had his grandfather the Vicar in mind when he wrote the poem A HAPPY VICAR I MIGHT HAVE BEEN, two hundred years ago, to preach upon eternal doom, and watch my walnuts grow..." ~ Jackie Jura)
VISITING ORWELL'S GRAVE (...We walked down the right side of the churchyard toward the back and started counting yew trees. At the fourth tree I stopped and looked at the closest headstone. To my surprise it said "David Astor, 1912 to 2001"....As I stood there lost in thought Zoe shouted out, "Here it is!" and I turned around to see that the headstone next in line to David Astor's was George Orwell's, although of course, as per his instructions, it said "Eric Arthur Blair". In the middle of Orwell's grave was a beautiful red rose bush which had obviously been planted by someone who knew what roses meant to Orwell. In one of his "As I Please" columns that he wrote for the Tribune he described visiting the cottage where he used to live and being amazed by the splendour of the rose bushes he'd planted almost ten years previously. No doubt Orwell would be pleased with the rose bush now growing from where his body lies and with the yew trees he's surrounded by, representing as they do the redemption of "The Vicar of Bray"....We took photos of the grave. Notice David Astor's headstone behind Orwell's, and notice the yew trees surrounding Orwell.... ~ Jackie Jura)
VISITING ORWELL'S WALLINGTON HOUSE
VISITING ORWELL'S WEDDING CHURCH
WHY I WRITE (...By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision. I remember a little poem that I wrote at that date, expressing my dilemma: A happy vicar I might have been, Two hundred years ago, To preach upon eternal doom, And watch my walnuts grow...)
WHY ORWELL WROTE 1984
Reader Tony explains who "Duggie" and Eugene Aram are in Orwell's "little poem"
Reader John asks for an explanation of "the little poem" in Orwell's essay "Why I Write"
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