Samuel Palmer was born in Surrey Square, off the Old Kent Road. The eighteenth-century terrace still stands today, with a plaque commemorating Palmer on his old home, number 42 (between two houses named 'Avalon' and 'Content' - very Samuel Palmer). Today the area is dominated by the Aylesbury Estate, but in Palmer's day it was more rural. As a four-year-old he was entranced by 'the moon... rising from behind some elms, casting their shadows on the floor' (Lister, Samuel Palmer: a biography).
With his father, he enjoyed childhood walks to Greenwich Park and to Dulwich, and continued these excursions as a young man. Of the former he he wrote: "We observed the shadows in Greenwich Park in the morning so purple and cool" (quoted in Abley).
Palmer's most famous works were undertaken while living at Shoreham in Kent, but it is clear that the landscape of (what is now) South London had a formative influence on his art. It was in this period too that he composed poems such as "Twilight Time" and "The Shepherds' Home". Perhaps we can see the "And now the trembling light/Glimmers behind the little hills" (Twilight Time) as a reference to his Dulwich visions.
Palmer's visionary sense of the landscape paralleled that of Blake. While Blake famously had childhood visions of angels in a tree in Peckham Rye, Palmer once wrote: "Sometimes trees are seen as men. I saw on, a princess, walking stately with majestic train". Elsewhere he wrote "creation sometimes pours into the spiritual eye the radiance of Heaven: the green mountains that glimmer in a summer gloaming from the dusky yet bloomy East; the moon, opening her golden eye, or walking in brightness among innumberable islands of light, not only thrill the optic nerve, but shed a mild, a grateful and unearthly lustre into the inmost spirits, and seem the interchanging twilight of that peaceful country, where there is no sorrow and no night" (letter to John Linnell, December 21 1828).
- Abley, Mark (ed.), The Parting Light: Selected Writings of Samuel Palmer (Manchester: Carcanet, 1984)
- Lister, Raymond, Samuel Palmer: a biography (London: Faber, 1974).
- Lister, Raymond (ed.), Letters of Samuel Palmer (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974).
- Lister, Raymond, Samuel Palmer and 'The Ancients' (Cambridge: University Press, 1984).