Tag Archives: Roumeli

Don’t forget your pith helmet by Mary Beard

An interesting, if somewhat lengthy, review of Mani and Roumeli by Mary Beard in the London Review of Books from 2005. She contrasts the advice and style of Victorian travel books and guides with the modern. Mary Beard is also a noted classicist and her views are always worth a read.

First published in the London Review of Books 18 August 2005.

‘In the language and manners of every Greek sailor and peasant the classical scholar will constantly recognise phrases and customs familiar to him in the literature of Ancient Hellas.’ So the anxious tourist was reassured in the preface to the 1854 edition of Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Greece. The message was simple: on a Greek boat you will find yourself back with Odysseus (‘the nautical contrivances and tactics of the ancients may be observed in daily use … the Greek seas are still as fickle as ever’); in a country cottage you will find yourself entertained by someone who could pass for Homer’s swineherd Eumaeus. ‘Even the ferocious attacks of vermin, which soon find out an Englishman, are exactly described in the graphic accounts given by Aristophanes of similar sufferings in Greek houses of old.’

Recapturing this world of antiquity was not, of course, without its hazards and difficulties, and the Handbook tried to demonstrate its own indispensability with some very lurid warnings about what could happen to the traveller who ventured to Greece unprepared. Health, indeed survival, was top of the agenda. ‘The abundance of fruit is a temptation to foreigners,’ it warned, ‘but nothing is more pernicious, or more likely to lead to fatal consequences.’ Protection against the Aristophanic vermin could be achieved only by means of a cheap but enormously complicated mosquito net whose daily assembling must have defeated all but the most obsessive and dexterous: ‘I have found that the best mode of entering it is to keep the opening in the middle of the mattress, and, standing in it, draw the bag entrance over my head.’ The problems of travel came a close second. Was it worth taking an English saddle? On balance yes, since they were so much more comfortable, but they did tend to injure the backs of the animals, given ‘the wretched condition’ of Greek horses. English servants, on the other hand, were better left at home, or if not at home, then in Corfu: ‘They are usually but little disposed to adapt themselves to strange customs, have no facility in acquiring foreign languages, and’ – revealing the characteristic blindness of the elite to the habitual discomforts of the working class – ‘are more annoyed by hardships and rough living than their masters.’ It was far more ‘agreeable and advantageous’ to hire a local, so long as no antiquarian knowledge was expected, let alone trusted if offered. For that, (hand)books were the thing. Continue reading

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Erotokritos as discussed in Roumeli

There is a very interesting discussion thread about this poem that I stumbled across recently.

Click here to have a look. It includes discussion about translation and some You Tube links. Here is what Paddy has to say about it in Roumeli:

Unknown outside Greece because of the deep vernacular that enshrouds it and its daunting length for a translator-though many, including me, have longingly toyed with the idea-it is one of the great epic poems of Europe. In Crete, this tremendous metrical saga plays the part of the Homeric cycle in Dorian times. Everyone knows it, all can quote vast tracts, and, astonishingly, some of the old men in the mountains, though unable to read and write, could, and still can, recite the whole poem by heart; when one remembers that it is nearly a thousand lines longer than the Odyssey, this feat makes one scratch one’s head with wonder or disbelief. They intone rather than recite it; the voice rises at the caesura and at the end of the first line of a couplet, and drops at the end of the second; now and then to break the monotony, the key shifts. During our winter vigils, it continued for hours; every so often another old man would take over; listening, I occasionally dropped off for an hour or two, and woke to find Erotokritos in the thick of yet another encounter with the Black Knight of Karamania. (He symbolized, at the time the poem first saw the light, the threat of the Ottomans; Turkey had already conquered the rest of Greece, and was soon to submerge Crete itself.) The rhythmic intoning might sway on till daybreak, with some of the listeners rapt, others nodding off or snoring.”

Musically it gets quite passionate as evidenced by these two samples:


Apparently the Erotokritos was written in about 1587. Here are some translated verses:

Of all the gracious things upon this earth
It is fair words that have the greatest worth,
And he who uses them with charm and guile
Can cozen human eyes to weep or smile.

— V. Kornaros, Erotokritos I 887-90 (Stephanides)

Begin your lesson now. It is a rule
That he who starts in time soon leaves the school.

— V. Kornaros, Erotokritos II 1871-2 (Stephanides)

There are full many, sweet, whose tongues are bland,
Who hide a poison phial in the hand.

— V. Kornaros, Erotokritos III 141-2 (Stephanides)

You straighten easily a fresh-cut stake,
Yet when it dries it will but split and break.

— V. Kornaros, Erotokritos III 279-80 (Stephanides)

True is that adage: “He who yields to rule
by woodenheads, becomes himself a fool.”

— V. Kornaros, Erotokritos III 967-8 (Stephanides)

Well said by the prudent who discover:
The heaviest pain lighter ones cover.

— V. Kornaros, Erotokritos III 1287-8 (Ragovin 1, p. 14)

Man shapes his plans as he intends and deems,
And not because of visions and of dreams;
The future is not yet, dreams cannot sway,
Man’s destiny this, that, or any way;
As each one makes his bed, so does he sleep;
The foolish only trysts with shadows keep.

— V. Kornaros, Erotokritos IV 139-144 (Stephanides)

Anyone who wants the great things of this life
Yet does not know he is only travelling the road,
And prides himself on his nobility and boasts of his wealth
-I dismiss him as a nobody, to be thought of as mad,
For these things are flowers which come and go,
They are changed by time, and time often takes them away.

— V. Kornaros, Erotokritos IV 601-6 (Bryans, p. 89)

Walking towards Byzantium

A Review of Artemis Cooper’s “Words of Mercury” by William Dalrymple published in the Guardian.

First published in the Guardian 13 December 2003

William Dalrymple relishes Words of Mercury, a selection from the work of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Britain’s greatest living travel writer.

Skill with the sword usually precludes much competence with the pen. For all that Sir Philip Sidney could write sequences of Petrarchan sonnets as well as lead buccaneering raids on the Spanish Netherlands, or Siegfried Sassoon write his anti-war memoirs while also winning the Military Cross, bookishness and military machismo are rarely found roosting together (after all, it’s no secret, as the old joke goes, that military intelligence is a contradiction in terms).

The great exception to this rule in our own time is Patrick Leigh Fermor. For though he is one of our finest prose stylists and – since the death this summer of his only possible rival, Norman Lewis – without question our greatest living travel writer, he was also responsible for one of the most audacious special operations coups of the second world war.

Leigh Fermor’s own account of the abduction of General Kreipe, the German commander of the Nazi occupation forces in Crete, is published for the first time in Artemis Cooper’s wonderful new anthology of Leigh Fermor’s work, Words of Mercury. The story is a famous one, and in the film version, entitled Ill Met by Moonlight, Paddy was played by the dashing Dirk Bogarde. But in Leigh Fermor’s own account, the climax comes not as the general’s staff car is stopped at night by a British SOE party dressed in stolen German uniforms, nor as the Cretan partisans help smuggle the general into the Cretan highlands and thence to a waiting British submarine; but instead as “a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mount Ida”: “We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said: ‘ Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Socrate’. It was the opening lines of one of the few Horace odes I knew by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off … The General’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine – and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ As though for a moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

It is an archetypal Leigh Fermor anecdote: beautifully written, fabulously romantic and just a little showy. For Leigh Fermor’s greatest virtues as a writer are also his greatest vices: his incantational love of great waterfalls of words, combined with the wild, scholarly enthusiasms of a brilliant autodidact. On the rare occasions he gets it wrong, Paddy has been responsible for some of the most highly coloured purple passages in travel literature. But at his best he is sublime, unbeatable.

For as well as being a war hero, one of the world’s great long-distance walkers, and as tough a traveller as you could find, Leigh Fermor has always been a writer of great intelligence, sensitivity and profundity. Here he is, for example, describing a French Cistercian monastery, where he says he discovered “the capacity for solitude and the recollectedness and clarity of spirit that accompany the silent monastic life. For in the seclusion of a cell – an existence whose quietness is only varied by the silent meals, the solemnity of ritual and long solitary walks in the woods – the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be skimmed away; and after a time one reaches a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world.”

Words of Mercury is a cornucopia, full of the rarest gems, but it is also a rather odd book: part collected journalism, part greatest hits anthology, with a few other surprising odds and ends thrown in, such as a memoir about the eccentric Scottish genealogist Sir Ian Moncrieffe of that Ilk. This tells of Moncrieffe’s huge pleasure in discovering that he was directly descended from “The Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory, Monster of Csejthe [who] was convicted in 1610 of the slow murder – in order that their blood might magically preserve her beauty – of more than six hundred girls.” In a similar mood, there is also a letter from Paddy to the editor’s grandmother, Lady Diana Cooper, and a footnote directing the reader towards the “strongly recommended” work of the military historian Antony Beevor, who just happens to be the editor’s husband (though in fairness, it appears that this warm endorsement comes from Leigh Fermor rather than Cooper).
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Philhellene’s progress: The writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor

As you know I trawl the net for Paddy related material to create the best online source of information about PLF and his friends and associates. Some of you may have come across this essay that attempts to analyse Paddy’s style and his literary achievement. In my view it is just one of many that emphasise how great the man is and how unequalled is his prose.

First published in New Criterion, Jan, 2001 by Ben Downing

I have carried the soldier’s musket, the traveler’s stick, the pilgrim’s staff. –Chateaubriand (what a great quote for Paddy!)

The captive must have been exhausted and afraid, but when, on the fourth day of his grueling forced march across Crete, he saw dawn break behind Mount Ida, the sight was so beautiful that it brought to his lips the opening of Horace’s Ode I.ix: “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/ Soracte,”(1) he murmured. Then, just as he trailed off, one of his captors came in to take the poem over, reciting the rest of its six stanzas. At this, the captive’s startled eyes slanted down from the peak to meet those of his enemy, and, after a long thoughtful silence, he pronounced, “Ach so, Herr Major.” For the captive was a German soldier–the commander of the island’s garrison, no less. General Karl Kreipe (to give him his name) had been abducted on April 26, 1944 by a band of Greek guerrillas led by two English commandos. Over the next three weeks, the kidnappers picked their way across Crete, eluding the thousands of Nazi troops who hunted them, until eventually they were met by a British boat and whisked to Cairo, where Kreipe was handed over and the two commandos promptly awarded the D.S.O. One of these men was W. Stanley Moss, who in 1950 published a riveting account of the escapade, Ill-Met by Moonlight, later filmed by Michael Powell. The other was a certain Patrick Leigh Fermor. Disguised as a shepherd and (like Zeus in his Cretan boyhood) living largely in caves, he had spent much of the previous two years on the island organizing the resistance. Leigh Fermor it was who finished the quotation.

But where had he, who’d never completed high school, learned Horace so well? Had Kreipe asked him this, Leigh Fermor could have answered, savoring the irony, that he’d committed the odes to memory during his teenage Wanderjahr a decade earlier, when, just after Hitler’s rise to power, he’d walked clear across Germany (among other countries) with a volume of Horace for his vade mecum, often reciting the poems to himself as he tramped. About that experience he’d not yet written a public word, and would not do so for many more years. Similarly he held off recounting his aubade with Kreipe. At last, however, in the 1970s, he broached the subjects of his continental traverse and, in an aside to that account, of his fleeting bond with Kreipe. Some things are best waited for: the book in which Leigh Fermor set these matters down, A Time of Gifts (1977), along with its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), represent not only the capstone of his career but, in my opinion, the finest travel books in the language and a pinnacle of modern English prose, resplendent as Soracte or Ida in deep snow.

The deplorable fact that most Americans, even well-read ones, have never even heard, as I also had not until recently, of a figure who in Britain (to say nothing of Greece, where he lives to this day) is revered and beloved as war hero, author, and bon vivant; who is, in Jan Morris’s words, “beyond cavil the greatest of living travel writers”; and who, in those of the historian John Julius Norwich, “writes English as well as anyone alive”–all this spurs me to correct our oversight of the sublime, the peerless Patrick Leigh Fermor.

His turbulent early life is recounted in the introduction to A Time of Gifts. Shortly after his birth in 1915, his mother and sister went to join his father in India, while he was left behind “so that one of us might survive if the ship were sunk by a submarine.” For four years he was billeted with a Northamptonshire farming family, an experience that proved “the opposite of the ordeal Kipling describes in Baa Baa Black Sheep.” A halcyon period, this, but the taste for boisterous freedom he acquired in the fields made for trouble later on: “Those marvelously lawless years, it seems, had unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint.” Especially intolerable to him were academic strictures of any kind, and there ensued a long series of dust-ups and expulsions, hilariously related. At ten he was sent to “a school for difficult children,” among which misfits he lists

the millionaire’s nephew who chased motorcars along country lanes with a stick, the admiral’s pretty and slightly kleptomaniac daughter, the pursuivant’s son with nightmares and an infectious inherited passion for heraldry, the backward, the somnambulists … and, finally, the small bad hats like me who were merely very naughty. Continue reading

Writer and WWII hero honoured with Order of the Phoenix

Report of the presentation of the Greek Order of the Phoenix to Paddy

First published Ekathimerini online 3 March 2007

By Helbi

Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) with Colonel Mark Blatherwick, the British defense attache in Athens

The week that passed brought both joy and sorrow to those close to two British heroes who fought for Greece during World War II and whose love for the country never dimmed. The writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, author of famous books such as “Mani” and “Roumeli,” “A Time of Gifts” and “Between Woods and Water,” even settled in Greece, near the Mani village of Kardamyli. This week President Karolos Papoulias bestowed upon him the Order of the Phoenix in the New Year honors for 2007. Ambassador Tassos Kriekoukis, director of protocol for the Foreign Ministry, spoke of “Sir Patrick’s love of writing and traveling but also for Greece, for whose freedom he fought at the side of Greek and British commandos. Who can forget his part in the kidnapping (in wartime Crete) of (German) General Kreipe?” Colonel Mark Blatherwick, the British Defense Attache in Athens, accompanied Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor to the event.

I say, old chap, that’s my favourite Horatian ode too! By Justin Cartwright

A review of Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor, ed Artemis Cooper first published in the Independent

Sunday, 2 November 2003

The overwhelming impression this book left on me was of a lost world of aesthetic public schoolboys, powerful newspaper editors, friendly ambassadors, and an unspoken understanding of what it meant to be upper- middle-class and English. What it meant was easy access to embassies and aristocratic houses around Europe, bicycle polo in Hungary, and the possibility that the next shepherd you met would be an Etonian Special Operations officer, speaking classical Greek. Here you will find the term “middle class” applied in a pejorative sense, rather than in the current usage which has such a wide catchment. That John Murray, the publishers of this book and upper-middle-class publishers par excellence, are no longer family-owned, perhaps confirms that this world has passed. And with it a love of language and literary decoration.

To quote Jan Morris, Paddy Leigh Fermor is beyond doubt the greatest of living travel writers, although the term “travel writing” barely does justice to the beauty, the lustrousness and sensuality of his writing. Take this, for example, speaking of how Greek temples once looked before they were stark ruins: “But the reality of the ruins, re-cohering in cobalt and blood-red, studded with metal, gaudy with idols, shiny with spilt honey and blood and reeking with sacrificial smoke, will have replaced the tinted ivory artefacts that had stolen their place and the void between the cutting of the flutes on the columns and the laying of the tramlines begins to fill up with people and events.”

There are about 40 short pieces divided into headings: Travels, Greece, People, Books and Flotsam. Many of these pieces are from Leigh Fermor’s great books, Mani, Roumeli and A Time of Gifts. (In 55 years he has only written eight books.) Others are from scattered newspaper pieces and obituaries. All the major phases of his life are represented here: the wandering schoolboy heading for Istanbul, the two years just before the war he spent in Romania with a doomed aristocratic family after meeting the daughter of the family in Athens (the woman Artemis Cooper describes as the love of his life), the extraordinary exploits in war-time Special Operations in Crete, where he captured the German General, Heinrich Kreipe, and his post-war exploration of Greece, particularly Mani where he has lived for 40 years in a house he built with his wife Joan, who died recently. Their story will be told by Artemis Cooper in a biography to be published after his death.

Read more!

Joan Leigh Fermor – Obituary from The Independent

Published Tuesday, 10 June 2003

Muse who enlivened a distinguished generation

Like all adorable people Joan Leigh Fermor had something enigmatic about her nature which, together with her wonderful good looks, made her a very seductive presence.

Joan Elizabeth Eyres Monsell, photographer: born London 5 February 1912; married 1939 John Rayner (marriage dissolved 1947), 1968 Patrick Leigh Fermor; died Kardamyli, Greece 4 June 2003.

Like all adorable people Joan Leigh Fermor had something enigmatic about her nature which, together with her wonderful good looks, made her a very seductive presence.

She was also naturally self- effacing. Even in a crowd she maintained a deep and private inner self. In fact I know she regarded every agora with phobia. Paradoxically, she loved good company and long and lasting friendships. It was her elegance, luminous intelligence, curiosity, understanding and unerring high standards that made her such a perfect muse to her lifelong companion and husband Patrick Leigh Fermor, as well as friend and inspiration to a host of distinguished writers, philosophers, painters, sculptors and musicians.

Cyril Connolly described her in a letter to his mother in 1949 as “a person with whom I have everything in common – friends, tastes, intellectual interests – and very beautiful: tall, fair, slanting eyes, yellow skin”. For the future editor of the Times Literary Supplement Alan Pryce-Jones, 17 years earlier, she was

very fair, with huge myopic blue eyes. Her voice had a delicious quaver – no, not quite quaver, an undulation rather in it; her talk was unexpected, funny, clear-minded. She had no time for inessentials; though she was a natural enjoyer, she was also a perfectionist whom [aged 20] experience had already taught to be wary.

When I first met her in 1942 through Peter Watson, owner and founder with Connolly of Horizon magazine, she was living as his neighbour in the only modern block of flats in London, 10 Palace Gate, designed by Welles Coates. She was a dazzling beauty and I, an awkward 20-year-old, was utterly stage-struck when she invited me to dance with her one evening at the very smart Boeuf sur le Toit night-club. The manager tried to remove me as I was wearing sandals, but was promptly reprimanded by Joan.

By wonderful good fortune she was already in Greece when in May 1946 I turned up for the first time in Athens, where she introduced me one evening to Paddy Leigh Fermor, who with his knowledge of the Greek countryside near Athens was instrumental in finding me a place to live and paint on the island of Poros. Joan’s love of Greece and the Greeks started, like mine, from this time.

Athens just after the Second World War was host to a unique group of marvellously talented men and women that included the philhellenes Steven Runciman, Maurice Cardiff, Lady Norton and Osbert Lancaster (whose secretary she had been), the Anglophile Greek painter Nico Ghika, the poet George Seferis and George Katsimbalis, Henry Miller’s colossus of Maroussi.

Anyone who thought foolishly that Joan herself was not really doing anything was as far from the truth as it is possible to get. Her unwavering empathy, generosity, taste and intelligence made her a creative catalyst to all who became her friends. Later on, Constant Lambert, Giacometti, Francis Bacon, Dadie Rylands, Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, Balthus, Maurice Bowra and Freddie Ayer, to name only a few, were all devoted admirers.

Joan herself was at that time one of the finest amateur photographers in England. Her photographs were first published, through her friend John Betjeman, in the Architectural Review, and then in Horizon, and are to be found in her husband Paddy’s books about Greece – Mani: travels in the southern Peloponnese (1958) and Roumeli: travels in northern Greece (1966). In 1948 she was employed by Cyril Connolly to be his photographer for a guidebook to south-west France, a book he never wrote, perhaps because, as he recorded in his journal, he “fell very much in love”, distracted by

her dark green cardigan and grey trousers, her camera slung over her shoulder and her golden hair bobbing as she walks, always a little fairer than you think, like the wind in a stubble-field.

During the war she was commissioned to take photographs of buildings vulnerable to bombing. After it a favourite subject was cemeteries – in Paris (Père la Chaise), notably, and Genoa. Somehow I never dared ask her why she gave up photography. It was always foolish to ask Joan a question when one already had a jolly good idea of what the answer might be: probably she did not think she was good enough.

At one time she owned a large convertible Bentley, appropriately nicknamed Moloch. It guzzled petrol as a row of thirsty Lombardy poplars needs water. One summer we set off in it with Paddy to drive to Italy, Joan at the wheel all the way, to meet up with Tom Fisher, Ruth Page, Freddy Ashton and Margot Fonteyn at the Villa Cimbroni in Ravello. We made frequent stops to explore Romanesque churches and eat unforgettable meals in little out-of-the-way restaurants, serving exactly the kind of French cooking admired and written about by Elizabeth David, whom Joan herself so much revered.

Joan and I shared a lifelong affection for cats. Paddy had less admiration and called them “interior desecrators and downholsterers”. Greek cats are good examples of a feline Parkinson’s Law. They prosper. Joan managed to have a large and endearing accumulation of them. One could not call them a collection; they were more like a flock, with Joan their shepherdess, handing out free meals. They repaid her generosity by offering her in winter a duvet of living fur for her bed.

With her beloved brother, Graham Eyres Monsell, she shared an exceptionally good and discerning ear for music. Her collection of eclectic and legendary performances of records was a constant joy for her and all her musical friends. Unfortunately, the vinyl long-playing discs made themselves irresistibly attractive to Greek dust.

She was born Joan Eyres Monsell in 1912, the second of three daughters of Bolton Eyres Monsell, the Conservative MP for South Evesham, later First Lord of the Admiralty and first Viscount Monsell. He had adopted the “Eyres” on his marriage in 1904 to Joan’s mother, Sybil Eyres, heiress to Dumbleton Hall in Worcestershire (subject of two Betjeman poems). Joan went to school at St James’s, Malvern, where in seven years she regretted that she learnt no Latin or Greek; all they taught, she said, was how to curtsy. She was “finished” in Paris and Florence.

When Alan Pryce-Jones fell in love with her in 1932, the First Lord saw him off. “I gather you want to marry my daughter,” he said. “What is your place? And what job have you?” Pryce-Jones had no “place” and no job. “And so, Pryce-Jones, having nothing, without prospects, without a home, you expect to marry my daughter, who has always had the best of everything . . . No, no, Pryce-Jones, come back in a few years when you have something behind you.”

Instead, two months before war broke out in 1939, she married John Rayner, then features editor of the Daily Express, but the marriage did not last, and they divorced in 1947. She served as a nurse, and then worked in the cipher department of embassies overseas, in Spain, then in Algiers and in Cairo, where she moved in the set that included Lawrence Durrell, Robin Fedden and Charles Johnston. It was in Cairo that she met Paddy Leigh Fermor.

She was happiest living with Paddy in what must be the most beautiful house in the Peloponnese, at Kardamyli in the Mani, which she and Paddy built of stone for themselves by the sea on a low promontory between two small bays. “Of course that big room,” John Betjeman wrote to the Leigh Fermors in 1969, “is one of the rooms in the world.”

John Craxton

Joan Leigh Fermor was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. Apart from beauty and acute intelligence, she had to an unusual degree genuine goodness, both natural and willed, which informed all her actions and relationships. Her great generosity was as natural as discreet, based on her perceptive understanding of those less privileged or lucky than herself.

I first met Joan and Paddy when I married my English husband and settled in London in the early 1960s. Their house in Chelsea was always full of guests, and Joan was the most gracious and informal of hostesses. But unlike some hostesses she did not care whether her guests were successful or not, famous or obscure. I never heard her pronounce a second-hand opinion about a book or a picture. She helped both maternally and with friendship many an impecunious writer and artist whose work she liked, and her sympathy extended to all those to whom life had dealt less favourable cards.

Joan was not religious – just saintly. And although not a believer she was deeply spiritual, to me an example of alma naturalis Christiana. Although she had no children, she had a few daughters and sons – among whom I hoped to be counted – who adored her. She made one feel that, as long as she was there, all was not ill with the world.

Shusha Guppy (whose obituary can be read here)

From The Independent