Saturday, 29 August 2020
'Well, who is it?!'
Eventually, sulky, and with unaccountable emphasis: 'The Duke of Hamilton.'
|Wilkie, Entrance of George IV at Holyroodhouse|
(Scott stands, at ground level, second from the left.)
The palace is picturesque, laid out and furnished in decadent Carolean style. Beside the house rises the wildness of Arthur's Seat.
The art, like much in royal palaces, is hit and miss. Some, such as a whole hall's worth of hastily painted pictures of every Scottish monarch, including the legendary (they've all been given Charles II's nose), is poor. As always, sooner or later one finds a Cranach, this one an Adoration of the Magi:
I liked this Lely of Catherine of Braganza:
My afternoon was similarly mixed: hounded by warders round the few spaces deemed safe in the Scottish National Gallery. Much is missing. I noted this Cranach, an Allegory of Melancholy...
...enjoyed seeing this James Drummond of the Porteous Riots, a real event and scene in The Heart of Midlothian...
...and marvelled at this Tiepolo sketch of Antony and Cleopatra - just because it's Tiepolo. I sense quite a few Brookner personages would have been drawn to this marvellous light-as-air picture, not just Blanche Vernon.
Thursday, 27 August 2020
Abbotsford isn't easy to access without a car. I do drive, but never on holiday. I wished I had my car with me today: rain sheeted down as I trudged along a deserted A-road through countryside cultivated but rugged. Abbotsford is a genteel fake baronial nineteenth-century castle in sight of the rushing Tweed. Scott built it from novel proceeds, but he didn't enjoy the finished article for long and his last years were ruined by ill-health and debt.
|View of the Tweed|
|Back of the house|
|Books in Scott's study|
|Scott's desk and chair|
Scott died on a camp-bed
in the bay window.
It is unmissable but oddly neglected. I don't just mean the last-century smog-discolouring, but also the lack of interest from passers-by. I felt rather self-conscious taking my photos. It is possible to go up the monument but not at present. On upper levels stand blackened statues of, no doubt, Dandie Dinmont, Effie Deans, Ivanhoe - but you can't make them out.
Wednesday, 26 August 2020
How near the past is. Travelling by train from London to Edinburgh, I passed halts I'd previously only read of. Beyond Newcastle the land grew gradually wilder, mistier: forests, rocky descents, expanses of heath stretching into foggy distances, sudden glimpses of the grey sea. I was reading Scott at the time, appropriately. The Scottish Borders is his world as much as the Highlands, probably more so.
Always I come back to Virginia Woolf's assessment of a scene in The Antiquary:
...all come together, tragic, irrelevant, comic, drawn, one knows not how, to make a whole ... which, as always, Scott creates carelessly, without a word of comment, as if the parts grew together without his willing it, and broke into ruin again without his caring.
In Guy Mannering, Scott's second novel, Scott tells, early on, of the disappearance of a small child. It is a distressing episode. Later, much later, when the child, now a man, is restored, the scene is overwhelmingly affecting - because it is so long earned, and because Scott makes it human and stays on just the right side of sentimental. The following is a spoiler. Let it be a taster:
‘There,’ said the Colonel, ‘I can assure Mr. Brown of his identity; and add, what his modesty may have forgotten, that he was distinguished as a young man of talent and spirit.’
‘So much the better, my dear sir,’ said Mr. Pleydell; ‘but that is to general character. Mr. Brown must tell us where he was born.’
‘In Scotland, I believe, but the place uncertain.’
‘In Holland, certainly.’
‘Do you remember nothing of your early life before you left Scotland?’
‘Very imperfectly; yet I have a strong idea, perhaps more deeply impressed upon me by subsequent hard usage, that I was during my childhood the object of much solicitude and affection. I have an indistinct remembrance of a good-looking man whom I used to call papa, and of a lady who was infirm in health, and who, I think, must have been my mother; but it is an imperfect and confused recollection. I remember too a tall, thin, kind-tempered man in black, who used to teach me my letters and walk out with me; and I think the very last time - ’
Here the Dominie could contain no longer. While every succeeding word served to prove that the child of his benefactor stood before him, he had struggled with the utmost difficulty to suppress his emotions; but when the juvenile recollections of Bertram turned towards his tutor and his precepts he was compelled to give way to his feelings. He rose hastily from his chair, and with clasped hands, trembling limbs, and streaming eyes, called out aloud, ‘Harry Bertram! look at me; was I not the man?’
‘Yes!’ said Bertram, starting from his seat as if a sudden light had burst in upon his mind; ‘yes; that was my name! And that is the voice and the figure of my kind old master!’
The Dominie threw himself into his arms, pressed him a thousand times to his bosom in convulsions of transport which shook his whole frame, sobbed hysterically, and at length, in the emphatic language of Scripture, lifted up his voice and wept aloud. Colonel Mannering had recourse to his handkerchief; Pleydell made wry faces, and wiped the glasses of his spectacles; and honest Dinmont, after two loud blubbering explosions, exclaimed, ‘Deil’s in the man! he’s garr’d me do that I haena done since my auld mither died.'
Sunday, 23 August 2020
Poor old Bluntie! So they got him,
'Mole Revealed' they say 'at last'.
On a bleak November morning,
What an echo from the past!...
Who'd have guessed it - 'Blunt a traitor'
And an homosexualist?...
... Now the nine-day wonder's over,
Back he goes to Maida Vale.
In his comfy little Rover,
Home to gin and ginger ale...