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Letters from Cornwall

DH Lawrence



DH Lawrence lived in Cornwall between December 30th 1915 and October 15th 1917, first in Porthcothan near Padstow, then in Zennor near St Ives. The many letters he wrote during this period are an extraordinary reflection of the times, and of Lawrence's own emotive response to them. Previously un-published on the www.


p493 to Catherine Carswell 31/12/15
I love being here: such a calm, old, slightly deserted house — a farm-house; and the country remote and desolate and unconnected: it belongs still to the days before Christianity, the days of Druids, or of desolate Celtic magic and conjuring; and the sea is so grey and shaggy, and the wind so restless, as if it had never found a home since the days of Iseult. Here I think my life begins again — one is free. Here the autumn is gone by, it is pure winter of forgetfulness. I love it. Soon I shall begin to write a story — a mid—winter
story of oblivion.

p503 to Catherine Carswell 11/1/16
I like Cornwall very much. It is not England. It is bare and dark and elemental, Tristan’s land. I lie looking down at a cove where the waves come white under a low, black headland, which slopes up in bare green-brown, bare and sad under a level sky. It is old, Celtic, pre-christian — Tristan and his boat, and his horn.

p505 Bertand Russell 13/1/16
I like being here very much. Cornwall isn’t England. It isn’t really England, nor Christendom. It has another quality: of King Arthur’s days, that flicker of Celtic consciousness before it was swamped under Norman and Teutonic waves. I like it very much. I like the people also. They’ve got a curious softness, and intimacy. I think they’ve lived from just the opposite principle to Christianity: self-fulfilment and social destruction, instead of social love and self-sacrifice. So here there is no social structure, hardly, and the people have hardly any social self: only the immediate intimate self. That’s why they’re generally disliked. And that’s why they were wreckers and smugglers and all antisocial things: And that’s why the roads are too dodgy to be
grasped. And that’s why there is such a lovely, intimate softness in the women.

p519 JD Beresford 1/2/16
Thanks for your letter. We heard from Barbara Low that you think of coming back in February. Will you tell me, so that we can leave Emma a few days to make ready for you. I don’t know where we shall go. It looks
as if we shall have to go to a little place Lady Ottoline Morrell will lend us, for we are very badly off. But I should like to stay in Cornwall. I like it so much. We might afford a cottage, I think.

It is quite true what you say: the shore is absolutely primeval: those heavy, black rocks, like solid darkness, and the heavy water like a sort of first twilight breaking against them, and not changing them. It is really like the first craggy breaking of dawn in the world, a sense of the primeval darkness just behind, before the Creation. That is a very great and comforting thing to feel, I think: after all this whirlwind of dust and grit and dirty paper of a modern Europe. O I love to see those terrifying rocks, like solid lumps of the original darkness, quite impregnable: and then the ponderous cold light of the sea foaming up: it is marvellous. It is not sunlight. Sunlight is really firelight. This cold light of the heavy sea is really the eternal light washing against the eternal darkness, a terrific abstraction, far beyond all life, which is merely of the sun, warm. And it does one’s soul good to escape from the ugly triviality of life into this clash of two infinites one upon the other, cold and eternal.

The Cornish-people still attract me. They have become detestable, I think, and yet they aren't detestable. They are, of course, strictly anti-social and unchristian. But then, the aristocratic principle and the principle of magic, to which they belonged, these two have collapsed, and left only the most ugly, scaly, insect-like, unclean selfishness, so that each one of them is like an insect isolated within its own scaly, glassy envelope, and running seeking its own small end. And how foul that is! How they stink in their repulsiveness, in
that way.

Nevertheless, the old race is still revealed, a race which believed in the darkness, in magic, and in the magic transcendency of one man over another, which is fascinating. Also there is left some of the old sensuousness of the darkness, a sort of softness, a sort of flowing together in physical intimacy, something almost negroid, which is fascinating.

But curse them, they are entirely mindless, and yet they are living purely for social advancement. They ought to be living in the darkness and warmth and passionateness of the blood, sudden, incalculable. Whereas they are like insects gone cold, living only for money, for dirt. They are foul in this. They ought all to die...

...The young men are all being called up now round here. They are very miserable. There are loud lamentations on every hand. The only cry is, that they may not be sent out to France, to fight. They all quite shamelessly don’twant to see a gun. I sympathise perfectly with this.

The cursed war will go on for ever.

Don’t let us keep you out of your house for one moment. If you want to come in in a week’s time, only let us know, and all will be ready for you. We love the house and we love being here. But we can leave at a day‘s notice. I have got ready a book of poetry here — quite ready — which I think is a great work to have done.


p556 Lady Ottoline Morrell 25/2/16
We leave this house next Monday (D.V.). Address us then ‘The Tinners Arms, Zennor, St. Ives, Cornwall’. Zennor is lovely — 5 miles S. of St. Ives: lovely pale hills all gorse and heather, and a great peacock—iridescent sea. We can have a house at Gurnards Head for 25 /- a week. The Murrys will come in April and share it with us: also Heseltine, if he escapes conscription. So all will be well. They will help us to live cheaply. Heseltine is very good, always paying more than his share. We have got nothing coming in, as yet:
but perhaps something will turn up. I shall tell you when we are really in need. Don’t mind the money for the bowl. It was very little; and we wanted you to have it — the bowl. As soon as I saw it, so nice and speckled, with its green like a memory of the sea, I said ‘Shall we send it to Ottoline’.

The snow falls, and the sheep and lambs are disconsolate, the sea disappears. Then all is white, and the sea leaden and horrible. Then, in an hour, the snow is gone again, the earth is so warm.

When we came over the shoulder of the wild hill, above the sea, to Zennor, I felt we were coming into the Promised Land. I know there will a new heaven and a new earth take place now: we have triumphed. I feel like a Columbus who can see a shadowy America before him: only this isn’t merely territory, it is a new continent of the soul. We will all be happy yet, doing a new, constructive work, sailing into a new epoch. Don’t let us be troubled.


p602 Barbara Low 1/5/16
My dear Barbara,
I would write to you oftener, but this life of today so disgusts one, it leaves nothing to say. The war, the approaching conscription, the sense of complete paltriness and chaotic nastiness in life, really robs one of speech.

It is very lovely here, with the gorse all yellow and the sea a misty, periwinkle blue, and the flowers coming out on the common. The sense of jeopardy spoils it all — the feeling that one may be flung out into the cess-pool of a world, the danger of being dragged in to the foul conglomerate mess, the utter disgust and nausea one feels for humanity, people smelling like bugs, endless masses of them, and no relief: it is so difficult to bear.

I have begun the second half of the Rainbow. But already it is beyond all hope of ever being published, because of the things it says. And more than that, it is beyond all possibility even to offer it to a world, a putrescent mankind like ours. I feel I cannot touch humanity, even in thought, it is abhorrent to me.

p625 Catherine Carswell 9/7/16
My dear Catherine,
I never wrote to tell you that they gave me a complete exemption from all military service, thanks be to God. That was a week ago last Thursday. I had to join the Colours in Penzance, be conveyed to Bodmin (60 miles), spend a night in barracks with all the other men, and then be examined. It was experience enough for me, of soldiering. I am sure I should die in a week, if they kept me. It is the annulling of all one stands for, this militarism, the nipping of the very germ of one’s being. I was very much upset. The sense of spiritual disaster everywhere was quite terrifying. One was not sure whether one survived or not. Things are very bad.

Yet I liked the men. They all seemed so decent. And yet they all seemed, as if they had chosen wrong. It was the underlying sense of disaster that overwhelmed me. They are all so brave, to suffer, but none of them brave enough, to reject suffering. They are all so noble, to accept sorrow and hurt, but they can none of them demand happiness. Their manliness all lies in accepting calmly this death, this loss of their integrity. They must stand by their fellow man: that is the motto.

This is what Christ’s weeping over Jerusalem has brought us to, a whole Jerusalem offering itself to the Cross. To me, this is infinitely more terrifying than Pharisees and Publicans and Sinners, taking their way to death. This is what the love of our neighbour has brought us to, that, because one man dies, we all die.

This is the most terrible madness. And the worst of it all, is, that it is a madness of righteousness. These Cornish are most, most unwarlike, soft, peaceable, ancient. No men could suffer more than they, at being conscripted — at any rate, those that were with me. Yet they accepted it all: they accepted it, as one of them said to me, with wonderful purity of spirit — I could howl my eyes up over him — because ‘they believed first of all in their duty to their fellow man’. There is no falsity about it: they believe in their duty to their fellow man. And what duty is this, which makes us forfeit everything, because Germany invaded Belgium? Is there nothing beyond my fellow man? If not, then there is nothing beyond myself, beyond my own throat, which may be cut, and my own purse, which may be slit: because I am the fellow-man of all the world, my neighbour is but myself in a mirror. So we toil in a circle of pure egoism.

This is what ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ comes to. It needs only a little convulsion, to break the mirror, to turn over the coin, and there I have myself, my own purse, I, I, I, we, we, we — like the newspapers today: ‘Capture the trade — unite the Empire — a bas les autres’.

There needs something else besides the love of the neighbour: If all my neighbours choose to go down the slope to Hell, that is no reason why I should go with them. I know in my own soul a truth, a right, and no amount of neighbours can weigh it out of the balance. I know that for me, the war is wrong. I know, that if the Germans wanted my little house, I would rather give it them than fight for it: because my little house is not important enough to me. If another man must fight for his house, the more’s the pity. But it is his affair. To fight for possessions, goods, is what my soul mill not do. Therefore it will not fight for the neighbour who fights for his own goods.

All this war, this talk of nationality, to me is false. I feel no nationality, not fundamentally. I feel no passion for my own land, nor my own house, nor my own furniture, nor my own money. Therefore I won’t pretend any. Neither will I take part in the scrimmage, to help my neighbour. It is his affair to go in or to stay out, as he wishes.

p649 Lady Cynthia Asquith 1/9/16
But I hate humanity so much, I can only think with friendliness of the dead. They alone, now, at least, are upright and honorable. For the rest — pfui!

Here in Nitria there is great space, great hollow reverberating silent space, the beauty of all the universe: — nothing more. The few visionary temptations: heather and blackberries on the hills, a foamy pool in the rocks where one bathes, the postman with barbed letters: they are the disordered hallucinations of temporal reality. Saint Anthony is not deceived by them. In truth there is vast unechoing space where one goes forth and is free...

....Frieda talks of coming to London for a few days this month. I simply dare not. The thought of the masses of humanity frightens my very soul. I dare not be jostled into them. But before long, when I am stronger than they, I shall come back.

Meanwhile, the monk of Nitria fitfully types out his novel, which is a sequel to the Rainbow.


p650 SS Koteliansky 4/9/16
I must say I hate mankind — talking of hatred, I have got a perfect androphobia. When I see people in the distance, walking along the path through the fields to Zennor, I want to crouch in the bushes and shoot them silently with invisible arrows of death. I think truly the only righteousness is the destruction of mankind,
as in Sodom. Fire and brimstone should fall down.

But I don’t want even to hate them. I only want to be in another world than they. Here, it is almost as if one lived on a star, there is a great space of sky and sea in front, in spirit one can circle in space and have the joy of pure motion. But they creep in, the obstructions, the people, like bugs they creep invidiously in, and they are too many to crush. I see them — fat men in white flannel trousers — peres de famille — and the families — passing along the field-path and looking at the scenery. Oh, if one could but have a great box of insect powder, and shake it over them, in the heavens, and exterminate them. Only to clear and cleanse and purify the beautiful earth, and give room for some truth and pure living.

Perhaps after all we shall prevail over the creeping multitudes. The weather will soon wash them back from these coasts. If only the war ended, you could come and stay here. Devise some job that will let you out of that Bureau.

Write and tell me what Katharine is doing in London: also Jack. I wrote to him very disagreeably, and said I wanted him to leave me alone entirely. But I feel myself relenting, and a little sorrow coming over my heart.

The heather is all in blossom: there are very many blackberries, heavy on the briars: we got some mushrooms on the cliffs yesterday, small and round in the close grass: the sea was very beautiful, dark, dark blue, with heavy white foam swinging at the rocks. If only one had the world to oneself! If only there were not more than one hundred people in Great Britain! — all the rest clear space, grass and trees and stone! Where is our Rananim? If only we had had the courage to find it and create it, two years ago. Perhaps it is not utterly too late.