“Nobility is the symbol of mind.”
In times of texting and sexting, Twittering and wittering, there is something positively antediluvian about epistolary collections—a whiff of fountain pens and headed notepaper, morocco-topped escritoires in long-windowed drawing rooms looking out over lawns studded with cedars and peacocks. Such fleeting evocations are lent depth and body when the letters in question have passed between lifelong friends Deborah Devonshire (now 89), last of the Mitford girls and chatelaine of Chatsworth, and Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (94), war hero and gentleman-chronicler of an interwar, largely vanished, traditional Europe with which he lived on unusually intimate terms.
Leigh Fermor’s dangerously unsettling account of his peregrinations between 1933 and 1939 (in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water—a long-deferred third volume is hoped for anxiously by legions of Leigh Fermorians) evokes a Europe that was even then anachronistic and which has since been almost entirely swept away by war and communism, or gnawed away by the worms of globalism. Portents were present to this observant walker (at least in retrospect—Gifts was published in 1977 and Woods and the Water in 1986) as he tramped solitarily from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople,...