Although I have already referred to Copsford above, I make no apology for going into more detail here. The book is Murray’s most important book and the one through which most people will approach his work. As we have seen above, after several years in London Murray felt the need to flee from the urban environment. Financial restrictions helped forge what happened subsequently, but Murray also had a strong idea of what he wanted: “…perforce I must find a cottage in the heart of the country; a cottage that cost next to nothing to rent…a cottage which had the open, flower-filled countryside at its very doors.”
With the help of his future fiancé, Murray located a derelict cottage on an isolated hill to the north-west of the village of Horam in Sussex. It was isolated, but it was not a huge distance from adjacent farms nor was it much more than an hour’s walk to Horam itself. It was, in a sense, metaphysically isolated. Murray described it as ‘peculiarly situated’ and a mile from the nearest lane. “In other directions tracks and roads were still further away…no road or cart track or any sort of footpath led through the fields and woods towards Copsford. There had been rough tracks in the past, but nothing recognisable remained except here and there grass-covered or hedge-filled depressions. These I only found and traced many months later.”
From the outset Murray was struck by the solitude of Copsford. He noted at the beginning of the book that the cottage was protected by “…some intangible screen which shrouded the little hill and veiled the mystery of the unwanted cottage.” The only photograph we have of Copsford, taken some years later when it had fallen into greater dilapidation.
On his first visit he heard the cottage long before he saw it. Heard the wind moaning through its open windows and rattling loose casements. In fact, the place was in a worse condition that he had envisioned. But standing on the doorstep he had a presentiment of what Copsford might offer him: “There was rain in the wind now, and the sky was as grey and sad as ever, yet there was something magical in this lonely countryside with its rough pastures, its unkempt hedges, snowy with ragged blackthorn, its woodlands hazy green, its winding brooks…..As I looked at the view from the top of the hill I thought of summer days. Through the grey curtains of rain that were now drawing across the wooded landscape I saw in imagination, summer blue, when all the shimmering countryside would be at my very door…I saw the possibility of doing what it had often been my great desire to do, to live alone and at one with Nature.”
Copsford had offered a moment of transcendence and Murray was quick to detect it. His next visit, the day on which he took up occupation seemed to confirm this. “It was a glorious day for my second visit to the cottage. One of those days which are like jewels among the many-coloured beads of spring. A day when we seem to breathe not air but sunshine….”
For the next year Murray did what so many of us wish we could do, he adopted a life of frugality and simplicity. Like Henry Thoreau, he ate and lived as simply as possible, stating “…simplification is, I believe, what millions are a-seeking, particularly in the appreciation of life and beauty.”
With his new life-style, Murray was ready to connect with the natural world around him, or as he frequently referred to it, the ‘undiscovered kingdom’. About three months after moving in, he woke to a perfect June morning: “It sometimes happens, at rare moments in our lives, we are suddenly aware of an altogether new world, different completely from that in which we commonly live. We feel as though we stand at the threshold of an undiscovered kingdom; for brief moments we understand life interpreted, we perceive meaning instead of things. In those golden minutes I understood every word on a single page of the magic book of life inscribed in a language neither written nor spoken. There was sublime tranquillity in the level white mists of the valley, a symphony like the ascending melodies of Greig in the sun rays that climbed aslant the hill, a quiet strength in the stillness of the trees, a brotherhood of life in all living things. I was no longer a single life pushing a difficult way amidst material things, I was part of all creation…It was a baptism into a saner way of living and thinking. The soreness of the slave-collar was salved. It was an outward and visible sign of my inward awareness of at-one-ment.”
Having achieved the state of ‘at-oneness’ with Nature or ‘the Kingdom’ around him, Murray proceeds to share with us his experience for the rest of the year, with its repeated moments of ecstasy as well as its disappointments. For it is part of the power of Copsford that it is not simply another book of ‘idyllic’ wish fulfilment. There is still hardship to come but Murray counters these darker moments by sharing with us his elated state of consciousness, his joy, and the consequent rich observation of Nature.
Copsford is a truly beautiful book.