Last of the scholar warriors

Jan Morris, The Guardian

Envy, they say, is the writer’s fault, but no writer of my acquaintance resented the pre-eminence of Patrick Leigh Fermor, the supreme English travel writer, who died after 96 years of a gloriously enviable life. He stood alone. One must not gush, but like Venice, Château d’Yquem or a Rolls-Royce of the 1930s, he really was beyond competition; and since so far as I know everybody liked him, everyone enjoyed his mastery. He was one of ‘God’s intimate loners’.

Few of us want to be called travel writers nowadays, the genre having been cheapened and weakened in these times of universal travel and almost universal literary ambition, but Leigh Fermor made of the genre a lovely instrument of grace, humour and reflection. He was, in my view, perhaps the last of a line that began with Alexander Kinglake and Eothen in the 1840s and depended for its style upon the easygoing confidence of the best of Englishness, in the best days of England. Nobody could be less racist, insular or pompous: but then the best of England never was.

In war as in peace, he was one of a kind. He went to no university, but he was one of God’s own autodidacts, with a prodigious gift for languages and a fascination with the most intricate, subtle and sometimes obstruse constructions of historical learning. Partly because he chose to live for much of his life in the southern Peloponnese, he was especially good at relating modern to ancient worlds, so that travelling with him, if only on the page, was like simultaneously travelling through several ages.

Read the full Patrick Leigh Fermor obituary at The Guardian …