Saturday, 11 January 2014

I Know It's Here Somewhere

Heaven alone knows what's on this blog - I've long ago lost track. The same is true of my possessions out in the real world, not to mention my memories, plus what I've been reading and what exactly I know - or at least what I think I know.

Which is why it comes as some relief to at last rediscover the source of something I mentioned somewhere here - that is, what Auden regarded as an ideal system of government. I thought I remembered reading it somewhere, but shortly after I wrote it doubt set in. Had I imagined the whole thing, I wondered when, @Deniswright (I do hope they have Internet in heaven so that he can read this) told me he'd Googled to find another reference to it and all that his search had thrown up was my own reference, which, as I mentioned, is concealed somewhere in the depths of this untidy blog.

But it turns out I didn't make it up, Auden's idea did really exist as his own, rather than as a figment of my imagination. I found it at last, amid the chaos that inhabits my Kindle, while trying to ignore a man in Prague railway station who had decided it was his mission in life to ensure we did not miss our train to Budapest (had we made ourselves so unpopular in the few days we were there that we had to be run out of town?)

The reference I'd been looking for is contained within Auden's idiosyncratic and amusing explanation of what he expected from paradise or, as he called it, Eden. Here is the full text. I trust that Auden is enjoying himself in that wished for land now - and that @DenisWright is equally happy in his own private version of the same great garden:

Eden, by WH Auden

Limestone uplands like the Pennines, plus a small region of igneous rocks, with at least one extinct volcano. A precipitous and indented sea-coast.


Ethnic origin of inhabitants
Highly varied, as in the United States, but with a slight nordic predominance.

Of mixed origins like English, but highly inflected.

Weights and Measures
Irregular and complicated. No decimal system.

Roman Catholic, in an easygoing, Mediterranean sort of way. Lots of local saints.

Size of capital
Plato's ideal figure, 5040, about right.

Form of government
Absolute monarch, elected for life by lot.

Source of natural power
Wind, water, peat, coal. No oil.

Economic activities
Lead mining, coal mining, chemical factories, paper mills, sheep farming, truck farming, greenhouse horticulture.

Means of transport
Horses and horse-drawn vehicles, narrow-guage railways, canal barges, balloons. No automobiles or airplanes.

State: Baroque
Ecclesiastical: Romanesque or Byzantine.
Domestic: Eighteenth-century British or American colonial

Domestic furniture and equipment
Victorian, except for kitchens and bathrooms, which are as full of modern gadgets as possible.

Formal dress
The fashions of Paris in the 1830s and '40s.

Sources of public information
Gossip. Technical and learned periodicals, but no newspapers.

Public statues
Confined to famous defunct chefs.

Public entertainments
Religious processions, brass bands, opera, classical ballet. No movies, radio or television.


  1. I don't suppose that Auden ever lived downwind of a paper mill or chemical factory, or downstream from mine seepage. But does he identify Eden and Paradise? I thought he distinguished them; were I more energetic, I'd try to find my copy of The Dyer's Hand.

  2. It's my error - he almost certainly does distinguish. That set of industries is among the items in the list that would have to come under the 'idiosyncratic' heading, I think.