In 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff said that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for.
It’s true. It’s there.
The England we look for is the England of books and poetry and landscapes of an almost mythical loveliness. Bowered lanes and hedgerows that were familiar before we ever laid eyes on them and hilltops brooding with legends that are true. We’re seeking the almost implausible beauty of a green and pleasant land, and the music of angels in echo-haunted cathedrals.
Something draws us and something breaks our hearts when we leave. Something holds us there, even in our delight at being here. Something about England stirs within us a holy discontent, a homesickness, an untamed vein of Tookishness that never lets us forget that Life is spilling into Eternity.
In the truest sense, we are looking for Home. And while it is inexpressibly, undeniably here, it’s also there.
“It is England we love, we Americans,” she had said to her father. “What could be more natural? We belong to it—it belongs to us. I could never be convinced that the old tie of blood does not count. All nationalities have come to us since we became a nation, but most of us in the beginning came from England. We are touching about it, too. We trifle with France and labour with Germany, we sentimentalise over Italy and ecstacise over Spain—but England we love. How it moves us when we go to it, how we gush if we are simple and effusive, how we are stirred imaginatively if we are of the perceptive class. I have heard the commonest little half-educated woman say the prettiest, clumsy, emotional things about what she has seen there. A New England schoolma’am, who has made a Cook’s tour, will almost have tears in her voice as she wanders on with her commonplaces about hawthorn hedges and thatched cottages and white or red farms. Why are we not unconsciously pathetic about German cottages and Italian villas? Because we have not, in centuries past, had the habit of being born in them. It is only an English cottage and an English lane, whether white with hawthorn blossoms or bare with winter, that wakes in us that little yearning, grovelling tenderness that is so sweet. It is only nature calling us home.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Shuttle