What Gift?

I am a Cornishman, a Celt, born in the far southwest of England. Apart from the six years of the Second World War and my time as a student at a college of education, I have lived the whole of my life not only in the small market-town of Launceston, where I was born, but also within the same parish.

Cornwall is a granite country, thrusting itself out into the Atlantic, an almost-island separated from the rest of England by the boundary line of the River Tamar. To this day, traveling across the river into Devonshire, there are those who still speak of going to England.

When the Normans arrived in Launceston soon after the great invasion of 1066, they built a tall stone castle and walled the town. Sensibly, they ventured no further into the turbulent west. As a young child, then, growing up in the 1920's, my little town of four to five thousand inhabitants was a microcosm of the whole world. For me, a child of working-class parents, nowhere else existed. London was an impossibly distant city. It might have been on the moon.

But what was sown in my mind and imagination was an almost overpowering sense of the past. Cornwall is a country rich in myth and legend. To me, every other farm and field, stream and well, every stretch of moorland with its mysterious piles of sculpted stone—sculpted by whom?—had, and has, its own history or fiction or fable. The Cornish were, and are, great storytellers, and...

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