Edward Thomas here, in a series of thirty essays, roams England in search of the homes of some of our most famous writers. He quotes extensively from their works, illustrating how the landscapes, towns and cities of their youth and maturity influenced their art. As one would expect, no revealing detail of humour or character escapes Thomas’s observation, so the book is at once a series of exact biographies and a feast of evocative prose.

Edward Thomas was born in Lambeth, south London, in 1878. A Literary Pilgrim in England was first published in 1917, the year he was killed in action in Flanders.

Here is the first page of his pen portrait of Emily Brontë:

Emily Brontë’s country is that tract of the West Riding of Yorkshire which is the scene of “Wuthering Heights” and Mrs. Gaskell’s “Life of Charlotte Brontë”. She was born at Thornton in 1818, but by 1820 the family had moved to Haworth parsonage, where she was to die in 1848. Thornton was “desolate and wild; great tracks of bleak land, enclosed by stone dykes, sweeping up Clayton Heights.”

Haworth left nothing undone that Thornton may have commenced. From their earliest years the six little children “used to walk out, hand in hand, towards the glorious wild moors, which in after-days they loved so passionately.” Emily was seldom to leave this country, and never without learning how much she was part of it. When she was seven she was away with her sisters at school, “the pet nursling of the school”, at Cowan’s Bridge. After that home and the moors were her school. She and her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, “used to walk upwards towards the purple-black moors, the sweeping surface of which was broken by here and there a stone quarry; and if they had strength and time to go far enough, they reached a waterfall, where the beck fell over some rocks into the bottom. They seldom went downwards through the village.” She was “a tall, long-armed girl, taller than Charlotte, full of power, a strange figure – tall, slim, angular, with a quantity of dark brown hair, deep, beautiful hazel eyes that could flash with passion – kind, liquid eyes – features somewhat strong and stern, and the mouth prominent or resolute, extremely reserved in manner. I distinguish reserve from shyness, because I imagine shyness would please if it knew how; whereas reserve is indifferent if it pleases or not.”

She was happy with her sisters, or with her dog, walking on the moors. Three months away from them at another school, when she was sixteen, made her wretched.


Edward Thomas, Robert Frost and the road to war by Matthew Hollis