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A God More Powerful Than I


In the spring of 1796, a young Cambridge graduate named Charles Valentine Le Grice moved down to Cornwall to become a tutor. His friends were dismayed. Le Grice had prospects. He was close to Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Charles Lamb. He also had a sweetheart in London. “Le Grice is gone to make puns in Cornwall,” Lamb wrote to Coleridge. “He has cut Miss Hunt completely: the poor girl is very ill on the occasion; but he laughs at it.”

The job in Cornwall sounded rotten: a sickly boy on an estate called Trereife, just outside the fishing harbor of Newlyn, about as far west in England as you could possibly go. The attraction, Le Grice’s friends surmised, must be the mother, a nobleman’s widow. “He will, of course, initiate himself quickly in ‘whatsoever things are honest, lovely, and of good report,’ ” wrote Lamb. Le Grice did just that. He married Mary Nicholls in 1799 and became a curate. He spent the rest of his life writing sermons, essays about fishing nets, and iffy poems about the glories of England’s westernmost tapering: “O! Land of yellow ling, and powdr’d hake! / O! Cornucopia of clouted cream . . . ” His pupil died of “ossification of the body,” in 1815, and the only issue of the new marriage, Day Perry Le Grice, inherited Trereife instead.

Jeremy Le Grice, a descendant of the lost poet, moved into a set of lofts at the back of the manor house at Trereife in the mid-1990s with his wife, Lyn. The estate, which had shrunk since the eighteenth century, was owned by a cousin. Over the years, Jeremy and Lyn had made a habit of refurbishing old farms and barns, partly to suit their work (he was a painter and needed the space for his canvases; she was an interior designer), and partly to suit their large family: they already had five children between them, from earlier marriages, when they became a couple in 1970. Their only child together was born the following year. They named him Jude.

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is a journalist living in London. His last article for Harper’s Magazine, “Inside the Snow Globe,” appeared in the July 2011 issue

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