The United kingdom is not only the sum of her parts but those elements that no longer exist.
This was brought home to me on a recent walk up Highgate Hill in London. On a wall two thirds of the way up is a plaque (above), which, as you can see, is dedicated to Andrew Marvell, sometime politician and (for) all time poet. As it says, four feet below is the step that once lead into his now vanished house.
The metaphysical poets are to me what geometry was to Macedonian general and pharaoh, Ptolemy I Soter: a little too hard to understand, so when I saw the plaque, His Coy Mistress was not uppermost in my mind.
It still isn’t; what is, is a phrase coined by G K Chesterton when discussing the influence of the saints-now-dead on Catholic Church theology. He called it the ‘democracy of the dead’. What I saw on Highgate Hill is the culture of ghosts.
This isn’t a negative term; my definition of it is, ‘that part of the UK’s heritage that has disappeared and can now only be remembered indirectly’. I am very glad that the LCC embraced the culture of ghosts, for its plaque not only reminds us of Marvell and his work, but simply that he lived there, on the Hill; this ennobles the area by giving her people the dignity of being connected – however loosely – to this important figure’s life.
All that glitters is not gold, someone once said; we might also say, ‘all that is ghostly is not scary – it may be a joy waiting to be rediscovered’. And that, to misquote my source, is an exciting thought.