Peace and Goodwill for a Happy New Year: the Golden Keys

Vernon Lee – portrait extracted from a film by André Noufflard, ca. 1932

The Genius Loci is that portion of nations and civilisations which, while it speaks aloud in their philosophy and poetry and music, and is written clearly in the shapes of their buildings, addresses itself to the initiate minds in their humbler habits, kindly and gracious, sometimes childish and funny : in the little boxes for winter-starved birds in German and Swiss villages ; the wheels for friendly storks, and the be-ribboned Christmas trees on newly carpentered roofs ; in these as much as in the classic ever-green garlands which Italians and Greeks hang even now round their church doors, or the dionysiac bunch of grapes still placed by the vintners of Burgundy between the broken stone fingers of the Mother of Christ. Things, all these, which involve for their heartfelt recognition just what the war and its war-breeding settlement have made, for the time being, an end of ; and what judicious persons warned me against mentioning on my title page. To wit, Peace and Goodwill.

You doubtless remember that the English speaking angels present at the Nativity ventured on the (rather rash ?) announcement that peace and goodwill were coming upon earth ; whereas the wilier angels of Latin speech made the proviso that men must possess goodwill before the could witness any such desirable novelty : Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis, i.e., and on Earth Peace to, through or by reason of (dative or ablative), men of goodwill. But whichever way we choose to interpret this doubtful passage of the Scripture, this much is, to me, certain –namely, that the Genius Loci is a little divinity whose delicate and protean manifestations betoken, nay require, the presence of that peace and goodwill. That is why I am glad to have consecrated so much paper and ink and passionate care to his, albeit seemingly frivolous, service.

(Vernon Lee, Dedication of The Golden Keys to Mona Taylor, Florence, October 1924)

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