A Memorable Diarist

This year marks the centennial of the death of a writer who combined literary excellence with Christian convictions: English clergyman Francis Kilvert (1840–1879). Critics have acclaimed his Diary, published in three volumes from 1938–1940, as one of the six best in the English language. In 1978 BBC television devoted a series of 18 15-minute programs to episodes from Kilvert’s journal.

Kilvert’s Diary, which covers the years 1870–1879, is most distinguished by its fine but unpretentious prose. A graduate of Wadham College, Oxford, Kilvert served only Anglican churches—in Wiltshire, Radnorshire in Eastern Wales, and Herefordshire. He delighted in the Wye valley around Clyro where he was a curate for seven years. His observant eye registered every detail of nature and of human idiosyncrasy. Each night his pen recorded what his eye saw. Look at one example:

“I fear those grey old men of Moccas, those grey, gnarled, low-browed, knock kneed, bowed, bent, huge, strange, long-armed, deformed, hunchbacked, misshapen men that stand waiting and watching century after century, biding God’s time with both feet in the grave and yet tiring down and seeing out generation after generation, with such tales to tell, as when they whisper them to each other in the midsummer nights, make the silver birches weep and the poplars and aspens shiver and the long ears of the hares and rabbits stand on end. No human hand set those oaks. They are ‘the trees which the Lord hath planted.’ ” That shows an understanding of trees which rivals Tolkien’s.

Remarkable also are his portraits of interesting individuals. With the art of a skilled novelist he could bring to life squire and cottage or such eccentrics as William Barnes; Dorset clergyman-poet, ...

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