39 pages 1 hour read

James Herriot

All Creatures Great and Small

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1972

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Important Quotes

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“‘All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.’

— Cecil Frances Alexander 1818-1895”

(Epigraph, Page 6)

This epigraph quotes a hymn, published in 1848, by the very popular hymn writer Cecil F. Alexander. Her work is quintessentially British, and though her religious leanings were to the Oxford Movement, her hymns cross the boundaries of Christian denominations, appearing in a variety of hymnals. This epigraph is exclusive to the American editions of All Creatures Great and Small. The original UK books were published in shorter volumes under different titles. The American title and epigraph frame the work in a Christian context, though Christianity plays a negligible role in the books. The new title was most likely the decision of a marketing manager at the American publisher, though Herriot’s daughter is also said to have suggested it. The sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world that Herriot evokes has much in common with the sense of wonder illustrated in Alexander’s hymn.

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“I lay face down on the cobbled floor in a pool of nameless muck, my arm deep inside the straining cow, my feet scrabbling for a toe hold between the stones. I was stripped to the waist and the snow mingled with the dirt and the dried blood on my body.”

(Chapter 1, Page 9)

Herriot uses vivid, visceral imagery to set up the reality of a vet’s life. He contrasts this with the vision of being a vet that he once—and his readers likely still—had. In this vision, it is clean, tidy, and simple. In reality, it is not an easy job, especially when working with farm animals.