Holden began her journal on January 1, 1906 and continued to capture the change of seasons through the use of her keen eye, careful hand, and beautiful artwork. Not exclusively a diary, as the year progressed she also included a few of her favorite poems (Byron, Burns, Wordsworth, E. B. Browning) and her personal observations of the world around her. Edith Holden worked as an illustrator following art school and her work has been published in several books, but rumor has it that she never allowed anyone to look at this diary. And apparently no one did until nearly 70 years after her death when it was discovered on a bookshelf in a country house. I can imagine what a spectacular find that would have been for any book lover!
In 1911 Edith married a sculptor, Ernest Smith and moved to Chelsea. They had no children.
On March 16, 1920, while she was attempting to gather the buds from chestnut trees, she drowned in the Thames. She was only 49 years old.
After my sister gave me this lovely diary, I learned that it was a popular coffee table book when first published. But it is also an inspiration for would-be diarists, journal keepers, bird watchers, naturalists, and just plain folks who like to get outside and observe nature - perhaps even an encouragement to make a record of one's own.
Certainly, few of us have the artistic talent of an Edith Holden, but even without the illustrations, it is delightful to know that on December 27, 1906, "in the paper today it reports that all Britain lies under snow from John O'Groats to Land's End for the first time for six years." Or that on the 30th "[t]he blackbirds and thrushes are usually rather shy, and fly away at the approach of any-one but now they only hop away to a little distance and sit watching with their bright eyes from beneath the friendly shelter of a bush, waiting to go back to their feast of crumbs."
But the promise of Spring is the promise of Spring. It was so back then, and so it is now. In 1906, on what would decades later be my birthday, Edith Holden went to Stratford on Avon and "walked to Shottery across the meadows. On the way I gathered Hawthorn blossom from the hedges and saw fields yellow with Buttercups and banks of blue Speedwell. The Dandelions were a wonderful sight along the railway cutting."
I would like to have known her and through her diary I almost feel I do. As it is, I'm not much of a painter, but this might be the year I invest in some brushes and a box of watercolors. It's never too late to learn, and if this diary proves anything it proves that to everything there is a season. Edith would approve.
What a lovely find! It's hand-written throughout? If it were mine I'd spend the whole book imagining that it was written by a grown-up Mary Lennox.ReplyDelete
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Jenny, yes, it is a facsimile of the original journal...all handwritten in her very lovely printing. Edith Holden was exceptionally talented. I understand it fell out of print for awhile but I believe it is once again available. My copy is the original 1977 printing. I love paging through it.ReplyDelete
I have this book somewhere in the house; your description evokes its charm and makes me want to hunt for it! Meanwhile, I say, YES, make some art! As you know, we all need to stretch ourselves, and you're a great stretcher.ReplyDelete
Tinky, I think it's worth hunting down again! Although she more or less stopped painting a couple of years ago, my mother is a wonderful watercolor artist (well, artist period. Watercolor just seemed to be her favorite medium). I have a lot of her work hanging up around the house. She also has a great many watercolor books and brushes. The paints might need to be replaced. I do think I'll give it a whirl. Maybe I can find some art in my DNA.ReplyDelete
I used to have an edition of that book years ago, but gave it away in a used book donation. Reading your post, I'm really regretting now.ReplyDelete
Oh my goodness! Is that ever a gorgeous book! I have just requested a copy from the library, I must hold it in my hands and marvel over it. And how timely too because I have been trying to figure out how to keep a garden journal. I started last year but after two half-hearted weeks it fizzled out. It is something I need to do to keep track of all the plants I am growing and what works and what doesn't. I've been doing it all in my head for years but the garden has always been small but not anymore. So thank you for your lovely review!ReplyDelete
Arti, my sister found it after it had been donated to a charity. So...perhaps I have your copy! Wouldn't that be amazing? But, sorry. You can't have it back. :>ReplyDelete
I remember when this first came out and how much was made of it - rightly in my opinion. I know most of the places she writes about and that makes it even more special for me. You can still do that walk from Stratford to Shottery (where you will find Anne Hathaway's cottage) although these days the land round about is rather more built up that it would have been in Edith's day.ReplyDelete
Stephanie, I was actually thinking about you when writing this post. I wondered if you kept a garden journal - and I knew this book would be right up your alley. Holden's 1905 nature journal has also been published, something I didn't know until recently. Even if not artistic, a gardener can add the lovely pictures from the seed packets or snapshots of the garden flora and fauna, to the pages of the journal. Your journal would be lovely.ReplyDelete
You have such faith! And I must say I had not even thought about using seed packets or photographs in the journal, so thanks for the idea! I just brought the book home from the library today and I can't wait to start reading it!Delete
Stef, did I just misspell your name? I know better. I'm sorry. Enjoy the book!Delete
Alex, in the back of the book Edith lists all the wildflowers and wild birds found in the neighborhood of Olton, Warwickshire. I was just thinking this morning how interesting it would be to see if, after the passage of 100+ years, whether nature has endured or whether some of the species have disappeared from the area. I wish I could. How lucky of you to be able to retrace her walks and adventures!ReplyDelete
I remember when this book came out - it was such a huge, surprise hit. It's lovely when something gentle and kind trumps all the sensationalist, violent rubbish out there. Not that that rubbish isn't fun sometimes, but I do like to see fair play! Beautiful review, Grad.ReplyDelete
Litlove, imagine having the actual journal. Wouldn't that be great. It is a fascinating book and I'm keeping my eye out for the 1905 journal. Maybe it will turn up in one of our used book sales!ReplyDelete
This book was a massive best-seller when it was first published here in the UK and it was in every second-hand bookshop from then on, but that doesn't mean it's not a lovely book ... it is! It spawned a whole Country Diary industry, with tins and bedding and so forth all smothered with images from the book. Then several more such diaries were published (I have some of them) including a fishing diary. All had some degree of success, and then the vogue for this kind of Victorian facsimile book waned, as fashions in books sometimes do.ReplyDelete
Galant, when my sister gave me this book I had no idea it had been such a hit when it was first published. But it is really beautiful and I treasure it. Victoriana does go in and out of style. I also loved a magazine called "Victoria" devoted to it. But it folded. I have a good number of the old issues. I think it may even have made a come back lately.ReplyDelete
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