For as long as I can remember I have felt an inexplicably frenzied affinity with America. When a child, it was Lassie who first stirred my heart with her wagging tale; Henry James and Edith Wharton later led me into the higher echelons of literature, while Mark Twain and Robert Service so cracklingly shed their Old World shackles and associations. Above all though, it is the architecture of the New World that has been an all-consuming source of delight, and about which I have spent years making films and writing books. From the modest charms of a ‘shot-gun’ house – so small that a gun can be shot clean through the building – to the classical columns that trumpet out the triumph of democracy throughout the land, every aspect of American architecture has always sent my spirits soaring to the skies. As for the sight of the stars and stripes – my emotions have always been unsuitable for one who lives under the Union Jack. Why has this passion never dimmed? While ‘God Save The Queen’ or ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ have kindled but dim sparks, even a passing mention of either ‘America the Beautiful’ or ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ has sent me into rapturous roaring accompaniment – I’m proud to say word-perfect. Now, at long last, after some fifty years, I have found out why; arriving at the ‘point of departure’, almost a lifetime after this great passion began.
Light dawned with a letter from a stranger; one Louis Lyell of Jackson Mississippi. He had been reading through the catalogue of a London bookshop and had lighted upon a book by a Lucinda Lambton. He was thinking of buying it. His daughter Louise was married to a Lucius Lampton; they had just had his first grandchild and he wondered whether I would be so kind as to sign my book, for my new kin?! Furthermore, he went on, did I know that Mark Twain’s mother was a Lampton? Did I know that Mark Twain’s mother was a Lampton! It was like a bolt from the blessed blue, a shiveringly exciting, shimmering-with-promise, bolt from the blessed blue; as, in my yearning for all things American, I had called my son Huckleberry – thirty- two years before and unknowing of any link with Twain. To have this link with the ‘Lincoln of Literature’ was therefore nothing short of sensational.
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