Tom Wareham

'Copsford' and the Nature Mysticism of Walter J C Murray

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Introduction

 

I am currently researching the life and work of Walter Murray and would welcome contact from anyone who can offer any information about him or his work.

 

In due course my aim is to publish something about him, probably in the form of a book or monograph.

 

 

Copsford  is a remarkable and haunting book which many readers find themselves returning to time and again.  Its author, Walter John Campbell Murray, was not only a great nature writer, he may also be one of Britain’s most important unacknowledged Nature Mystics.   I hope to both encourage people to read and understand Copsford itself, but also to attempt an assessment of Murray’s Nature Mysticism.

 

Copsford relates the story of the twelve months that Murray spent, as a young man, living in an isolated and derelict cottage in the Weald.  A more detailed analysis follows below, but here it is essential to provide an introduction for what follows.  

 

Copsford was first published in 1948, though the year he spent at Copsford pre-dates this.  He had previously resided in London and he moved to Copsford, both to escape the misery of the urban life-style, but also to live closer to nature.  In this latter he certainly succeeded, living alone but for a dog, a bitch called ‘Floss’, who he purchased from the postman in the nearby village.  Murray’s plan was to sustain himself by freelance writing, producing contributions to daily newspapers and periodicals, and by selling herbs harvested from the surrounding countryside and dispatched for sale in London.  All of this he did, with varying degree of success.

 

For a year he scraped a living in this way, finding an intimate connection with nature and the surrounding countryside, experiencing weather in the raw in all its forms.  His mode of living was Spartan, simple and almost aesthetic and totally lacking in the artificial distractions of the ‘modern’ world.  This made him much more conscious of the natural world around him, and it is this which makes the book so captivating.  In the end Murray was driven out of Copsford after rainfall so heavy that the cottage was flooded even though it stood on a hill.  And the climatic storm at the end of the book is one of its symbolic highlights.  

 

The book though becomes more than the account of a year spent close to nature.  On repeated reading it becomes apparent that it resembles Henry Thoreau’s masterpiece Walden.  Indeed although written nearly 100 years apart, Copsford and Walden share certain characteristics.  In both cases the author, disillusioned with the lack of meaning in modern urban living, abandons the city and retreats to a cottage in the ‘wild’.  Neither flee to a rugged or total wilderness, but find the ‘wild’ closer to home – and this is part of their significance.  The wild is within as much as without. Nevertheless both authors live in an isolated cottage or hut, set apart from the lives of their fellow man and both opt for a simplistic life-style.

 

Copsford is both charming and haunting at the same time.  It is also inspiring and heart-warming.  And Murray himself never quite got over the experience of the year he recounts in the book.