Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Saint Andrew's Day

'Aweel, Ellangowan,' she said, 'wad it no hae been a bonnie thing, an the
leddy had been brought to bed, and me at the fair o' Drumshourloch, no
kenning, nor dreaming a word about it? Wha was to hae keepit awa the
worriecows, I trow? Ay, and the elves and gyre-carlings frae the bonnie
bairn, grace be wi' it? Ay, or said Saint Colme's charm for its sake, the
dear?' And without waiting an answer she began to sing--

     Trefoil, vervain, John's-wort, dill,
     Hinders witches of their
     will, Weel is them, that weel may
     Fast upon Saint Andrew's day.

     Saint Bride and her brat,
     Saint Colme and his cat,
     Saint Michael and his spear,
     Keep the house frae reif and wear.

Text from Walter Scott’s “Guy Mannering” for St. Andrew’s Day (November 30).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

La Vallette

November 29. [1831]—… Made another pilgrimage, escorted by Captain Pigot and several of his officers. We took a more accurate view of this splendid structure [Church of St. John]. I went down into the vaults and made a visiting acquaintance with La Valette, whom, greatly to my joy, I found most splendidly provided with a superb sepulchre of bronze, on which he reclines in the full armour of a Knight of Chivalrie.

Sir Walter Scott is touring Malta on November 29th, 1831, as he records in his journal.  La Vallette is known best for his leadership in resisting Ottoman Turks during the Siege of Malta (1565), despite being vastly outnumbered.  The Siege of Malta was the subject of Scott’s last novel, which was published only recently. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Prisons are built with stones of Law

‘…A large proportion of the citizens, though assuming arms for the protection of themselves and their families had no desire of employing them against the royal authority; a much larger only united themselves with the insurgents, because, in a moment of universal agitation, they were the active and predominant party. Of these the former desired peace and protection; the latter, from habit and shame, must have soon deserted the side which was ostensibly conducted by ruffians and common stabbers, and drawn themselves to that which protected peace and good order. We have too good an opinion of a people so enlightened as those of France, too good an opinion of human nature in any country, to believe that men will persist in evil, if defended in their honest and legal rights.

What, in thin ease, was the duty of Louis XVI.? We answer without hesitation, that which George; III. of Britain proposed to himself, when, in the name of the Protestant religion, a violent and disorderly mob opened prisons, destroyed property, burned houses, and committed, though with far fewer symptoms of atrocity, the same course of disorder which now laid waste Paris…’

The text above comes from Sir Walter Scott’s “Life of Napoleon Bonaparte”.  The British incident Scott refers to was the Gordon Riots, which today’s subject, poet William Blake, took part in.  According to Michael Davis, in his “William Blake: a new kind of man”, ‘Blake, a revolutionary at heart, was in the front rank of the mob that surged down Holborn and stormed London’s oldest and largest prison, Newgate.  Perhaps he got caught up in the crowd and was unwillingly carried along, or perhaps he actively joined it on its way to free not only the four rioters arrested a few nights before but also about three hundred other prisoners.  By now the riots had become an incoherent revolt against authority, an outburst by the frustrated poor egged on by fanatics and criminals…

Blake’s view of the responsibility of society for the quality of life in his time, and for such an eruption as the Gordon Riots, is tersely expressed in his proverb: ‘Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion’… ’

William Blake was born on November 28, 1757, about fourteen years before Scott.  He was twenty-two at the time of the riots.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fanny Kemble

‘June 17 [1830].—Went last night to theatre, and saw Miss Fanny Kemble's Isabella [Southerne's Fatal Marriage], which was a most creditable performance. It has much of the genius of Mrs. Siddons, her aunt. She wants her beautiful countenance, her fine form, and her matchless dignity of step and manner. On the other hand, Miss Fanny Kemble has very expressive, though not regular, features, and what is worth it all, great energy mingled with and chastened by correct taste. I suffered by the heat, lights, and exertion, and will not go back to-night, for it has purchased me a sore headache this theatrical excursion. Besides, the play is Mrs. Beverley [In the Gamester by Moore], and I hate to be made miserable about domestic distress, so I keep my gracious presence at home to-night, though I love and respect Miss Kemble for giving her active support to her father in his need, and preventing Covent Garden from coming down about their ears…’

Actress Fanny Kemble was born this day, November 27th, in 1809.  She was not quite 21 when Walter Scott saw her performance, which he recorded in his journal.  Ms. Kemble moved to the United States two years later, initially to accompany her father on a theatrical tour.  By 1834, she had married an American, Pierce Butler.  The now Frances Anne Butler, kept several journals herself.  One noted journal deals with slavery, others with her life in Boston and trips to western Massachusetts.  She was fond of Lenox, MA, the current summer home of the Boston Pops (Tanglewood) where she is remembered today.  From her journal: ‘My abiding feeling is that I had better get back to my beloved Lenox, to the side of the “bowl” (the Indian name of a beautiful small lake between Lenox and Stockbridge), among the Berkshire hills…’

Saturday, November 26, 2011

John Spottiswoode

‘Walter Scott, my father, was born in 1729, and educated to the profession of a Writer to the Signet… His general habits were not only temperate, but severely abstemious; but upon a festival occasion, there were few whom a moderate glass of wine exhilarated to such a lively degree. His religion, in which he was devoutly sincere, was Calvinism of the strictest kind, and his favourite study related to church history. I suspect the good old man was often engaged with Knox and Spottiswoode’s folios, when, immured in his solitary room, he was supposed to be immersed in professional researches.’

Archbishop of St. Andrews John Spottiswoode died this day, November 26, in 1639.  Clearly he was well known in the Scott household.  Spottiswoode published “The History of the Church and State of Scotland” in 1655.  The text above comes from Lockhart’s “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott”.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Great Storm of 1703

England’s Great Storm of 1703 reached its worst state on November 25th 1703, and lasted several days.  Winds gusted to 120 mph.  Many ships were lost, the Royal Navy losing thirteen vessels.  Sir Walter Scott discusses the storm in relation to the work of Daniel Defoe, as part of his biography of Defoe:

‘It is a wonder how so excellent a subject as the Great Fire of London, should have escaped the notice of De Foe, so eager for subjects of a popular character. Yet we can hardly regret this, since besides the verses of Dryden in the Annus Mirabilis, the accounts by two contemporaries, Evelyn and Pepys, have sketched it in all its terrible brilliancy.

The Great Storm, which, on 26th November, 1703, in Addison's phrase, "o'er pale Britannia pass'd," was seized upon by De Foe as a subject for the exercise of his powers of description. But as it consists in a great measure of letters from the country, wretched pastoral poetry, (for De Foe was only a poet in prose,) and similar buckram and binding used by bookmakers, it does not do the genius of the author the same credit as the works before named…’

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Skirmish in Edinburgh

‘At every turn, Roland Graeme might see a gallant ruffle along in the newer or French mode, his doublet slashed, and his points of the same colours with the lining, his long sword on one side, and his poniard on the other, behind him a body of stout serving men, proportioned to his estate and quality, all of whom walked with the air of military retainers, and were armed with sword and buckler, the latter being a small round shield, not unlike the Highland target, having a steel spike in the centre. Two of these parties, each headed by a person of importance, chanced to meet in the very centre of the street, or, as it was called, "the crown of the cause-way," a post of honour as tenaciously asserted in Scotland, as that of giving or taking the wall used to be in the more southern part of the island. The two leaders being of equal rank, and, most probably, either animated by political dislike, or by recollection of some feudal enmity, marched close up to each other, without yielding an inch to the right or the left; and neither showing the least purpose of giving way, they stopped for an instant, and then drew their swords. Their followers imitated their example; about a score of weapons at once flashed in the sun, and there was an immediate clatter of swords and bucklers, while the followers on either side cried their master's name; the one shouting "Help, a Leslie! a Leslie!" while the others answered with shouts of "Seyton!  Seyton!" with the additional punning slogan, "Set on, set on--bear the knaves to the ground!"…’

The fight scene above comes from Walter Scott’s “The Abbot”.  The streets of Edinburgh will soon turn red with the blood of Setons and Leslies.  The notes to the Edinburgh Edition of this novel provide a historic reference for this scene.  A fuller description of the reference is found in Major William Bruce Armstrong’s “The Bruces of Airth and their cadets”.  The fight occurred this day, November 24th, in the year 1567.  

‘Nov. 24, 1567. — "At 2 afternoon the Laird of Airth and the Laird of Wemyss met upon the Hie
Gait of Edinburgh, and they and their followers faught a very bluidy skirmish, where there was 
many hurt on both sides with shot of pistol." 
From Diary of Robert Birrel from 1532 to 1605, page 13.
Apparently in consequence of this affair, there was, on the 27 November, "a strait proclamation
discharging the wearing culverins, dags, pistolets, or sic other fireworks," with injunctions that 
any one contravening should be seized and subjected to summary trial " as gif they had committit 
recent slauchters." From Privy Council Records.’