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Miriam Macgregor, Somerset Garden (wood engraving) - Slightly Foxed Issue 56

Somerset Garden

‘She rises still. A region must be found unhaunted by birds, that else might profane the mystery. She rises still; and already the ill-assorted troop below are dwindling and falling asunder. The feeble, infirm, the aged, unwelcome, ill fed, who have flown from inactive or impoverished cities – these renounce the pursuit and disappear in the void. Only a small, indefatigable cluster remain, suspended in infinite opal. She summons her wings for one final effort; and now the chosen of incomprehensible forces has reached her, has seized her, and, bounding aloft with united impetus, the ascending spiral of their intertwined flight whirls for one second in the hostile madness of love.’

Maurice Maeterlinck’s description of the nuptial flight of the bee is ‘almost as breathtaking for the reader as for the virgin queen and her tragic consort’, writes Nicholas Asprey in Slightly Foxed Issue 56. His article on Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee – ‘not a scientific study or a treatise on practical beekeeping but a study of the bees and their culture’ – was illustrated with a beautiful horticultural wood engraving by Miriam Macgregor, ‘Somerset Garden’, complete with charming bee hives and a hum of activity.

Miriam Macgregor was born in India and came to England when she was 10. She still remembers the first impact of the gentle English landscape seen from the train, and her engravings retain that freshness. She was introduced to wood engraving by the engraver John Lawrence and developed her interest while working as a typographer in London. In 1977 she joined the Whittington Press and went on to illustrate many of their handsome books. Warmth, humour, a love of the domestic scene and of the Cotswold countryside in which she lives have been the distinguishing features of Miriam’s work during her long career as both an author and illustrator.

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