Monday, October 12, 2015

The Swan of Usk

Photo taken by me August 20, 2010 in Gwent, Wales.*
Just finished a novel based on the life of Cousin Henry Vaughan, Silurist. It's long out of print but I got it fairly inexpensively through Abe Books, a wonderful resource for anything ever in print, especially from Britain. To be entirely proper here, I must cite it as: The Swan of Usk: A Historical Novel, by Helen Ashton (Collins, London 1940).

As I suspected while reading the book, Ashton was a nurse during the Great War and then, as I hadn't suspected, went on to become a medical doctor. This served her well in writing of Cousin Henry as he served as a surgeon/doctor with the King's forces during the English Civil War. He was a Healer and Poet in some contrast to his twin brother Tom, who was a more swashbuckling Cavalier and then an Alchemist in search of the Philosopher's Stone.

Both the healing arts and the butchery of war are well conveyed by Ashton. She was of that barely surviving generation that had hoped the Great War was to end all wars which tragically, it did not. It is the best story of the Civil War that I have read to date.

It is Henry's poetic heart that comes out best as the author models her prose after his poetry. She sums up his life well as a poor country nobleman of inheritance lost through fines on the Royalists among the even poorer mountain people of his medical practice:
He rode about the countryside in all weathers, from one sick room to another, yet in all his riding up and down and his care for others he made prayer and meditation still his chief employment and would lift up his heart to Heaven twenty times a day. At night when he rode about the hills and saw the stars moving over him, silent and watchful, he wished that he might fulfill Heaven's law as they did. This was a man who once in his extremity had seen the vision of God and ever afterwards strove to speak of it in the ears that would not hear him. Few people understood or cared to ponder these difficult thoughts of his. He had the misfortune to sojourn here in an age that understood him not. So after a time he laid aside his pen and wrote no more of the mysteries which occupied his thoughts.
There's a man, and a cousin to be proud of!  Let's hope some of that Silurist blood flows through me (as my DNA test and dark hair pretty much confirm) and let's pray I can, like he, continue to contemplate the mysteries of Godliness.

*Technically, the photo was taken from the Monmouth Bridge on the Monnow, which flows into the Wye. But I'm pretty sure that swan has been a few miles east to the Usk. And it's the only swan pic I have. "That'll do, Swan!"

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