Wednesday, August 31, 2011

William Borlase

William Borlase was a Cornish antiquary, who was born in 1696, and died on August 31, 1772; one year after Scott was born.  His publications include “Antiquities of Cornwall”, “Observations on the Ancient and Present State of the Islands of Scilly”, and “Natural History of Cornwall”.  Scott referred to Borlase in the notes to his “Marmion”.

Note VI.
The battled towers, the donjon keep. -P- 93It is perhaps unnecessary to remind, my readers, that the donjon, in its proper signification, means the strongest part of a feudal castle; a high square tower, with walls of tremendous thickness, situated in the centre of the other buildings, from which, however, it was usually detached. Here, in case of the outward defences being gained, the garrison retreated to make their last stand. The donjon contained the great hall, and principal rooms of state for solemn occasions,
and also the prison of the fortress; from which last circumstance we derive the modern and restricted use of the word dungeon. Ducange {voce Dunjo) conjectures plausibly, that the name is derived from these keeps being usually built upon a hill, which in Celtic is called' Dun. Borlase supposes the word came from the darkness of the apartments in these towers, which were thence figuratively called Dungeons: thus deriving the ancient word from the modern application of it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mary Shelley

The author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, was born on August 30, 1797.  In addition to this Gothic novel, Shelley took a stab at the historical romance that Sir Walter Scott had developed, authoring “The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck” in 1830.  According to Mary Shelley’s preface:

‘The story of Perkin Warbeck was first suggested to me as a subject for historical detail. On studying it, I became aware of the romance which his story contains, while, at the same time, I felt that it would be impossible for any narration, that should be confined to the incorporation of facts related by our old Chronicle to do it justice.

It is not singular that I should entertain a belief that Perkin was, in reality, the lost Duke of York. For, in spite of Hume, and the later historians who have followed in his path, no person who has at all studied the subject but arrives at the same conclusion. Records exist in the Tower, some well known, others with which those who have access to those interesting papers are alone acquainted, which put the question almost beyond a doubt…’

Ms. Shelley could not have escaped the influence of Walter Scott in her foray into the historical novel.  Deidre Lynch, who has contributed “The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley” writes:

‘Early in 1820 the Shelleys, then living in Italy, received a crate packed with various household articles and a selection of the new novels that had become the talk of the nation. In one, Ivanhoe, the “Dedicatory Epistle” - a letter purportedly sent by one Laurence Templeton to his antiquarian colleague, the Reverend Dr. Dryasdust - mentions a “Scottish magician, [who], you say, was . . . at liberty to walk over the recent field of battle, and to select for the subject of resuscitation by his sorceries a body whose limbs had recently quivered with existence, and whose throat had but just uttered the last note of agony.”  Templeton's necromancer, who must have reminded Mary Shelley of the “unhallowed arts” of her own Victor Frankenstein, was none other than Templeton's own creator, Sir Walter Scott. In the opinion of numerous reviewers, such necromancy, resuscitating bygone figures from historical fields as varied as Norman England and eighteenth-century Scotland, had endowed the novel form itself with a new dignity. Typical is one review, which advises that Scott's Waverley should not be “consider[ed] . . . in the light of a common novel, whose fate it is to be devoured with rapidity for the day, and to be afterwards forgotten for ever”; it should rather be, this critic wrote, lauded as a “vehicle of curious accurate information upon a subject which must at all times demand our attention - the history and manners of . . . the inhabitants of these islands.”  

Monday, August 29, 2011

According to Hoyle

‘…The playing at backgammon and draughts had been a frequent amusement of Mr. Whackbairn, Butler's principal, when at Liberton school. The minister, therefore, still piqued himself on his skill at both games, and occasionally practised them, as strictly canonical, although David Deans, whose notions of every kind were more rigorous, used to shake his head, and groan grievously, when he espied the tables lying in the parlour, or the children playing with the dice boxes or backgammon men. Indeed, Mrs. Butler was sometimes chidden for removing these implements of pastime into some closet or corner out of sight. "Let them be where they are, Jeanie," would Butler say upon such occasions; "lam not conscious of following this, or any other trifling relaxation, to the interruption of my more serious studies, and still more serious duties. I will not, therefore, have it supposed that I am indulging by stealth, and against my conscience, in an amusement which, using it so little as I do, I may well practise openly, and without any check of mind—Nil conscire sibi, Jeanie, that is my motto; which signifies, my love, the honest and open confidence which a man ought to entertain when he is acting openly, and without any sense of doing wrong."
Such being Butler's humour, he accepted the Captain's defiance to a twopenny hit at backgammon, and handed the letter to his wife, observing the post-mark was York, but, if it came from her friend Mrs. Bickerton, she had considerably improved her handwriting, which was uncommon at her years…’

In “The Heart of Mid-Lothian”, men enjoy playing backgammon.  Sir Walter Scott was reportedly an avid player.   The individual responsible for determining the rules of so many card and board games, Edmund Hoyle, died this day, August 29th, in 1769.  Hoyle’s “A short treatise on the Game of Backgammon” was published in 1743.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Battle of Newburn

‘On 28th August, 1640, the battle of Newburn was fought. The Scots entered the ford, girdle deep, and after silencing the artillery by their superior fire, made their way across the river, and the English fled with a speed and disorder unworthy of their national reputation.’

The text above is from Walter Scott’s “Tales of a Grandfather”.  The Battle of Newburn was part of the Second Bishop’s War.  Scottish Covenanters under General Alexander Leslie were victorious in this fight against English Royalists under Lord Edward Conway.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Poet James Thomson

“I dined two days ago tête à tête with Lord Buchan. Heard a history of all his ancestors whom he has hung round his chimney-piece. From counting of pedigrees, good Lord deliver us! He is thinking of erecting a monument to Thomson. He frequented Dryburgh much in my grandfather’s time. It will be a handsome thing..”.

The text above is from a letter from Walter Scott to William Clerk (September 3, 1790), published in John Gibson Lockhart’s “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.”  The author of the lyrics to “Rule, Britannia”, poet James Thomson, died on August 27, 1748.

Friday, August 26, 2011

John Fitch's Steamboat

‘…Corrected proofs in the morning. When I came home from Court I found that John Lockhart and Sophia were arrived by the steam-boat at Portobello, where they have a small lodging…’

The steamboat was in full use by 1827, when Scott’s daughter and son-in-law arrive from Portobello (Scott’s Journal: June 9, 1827).  We’ve covered the first trans-Atlantic crossing of the SS Sirius (1837) in an earlier post.  Early Scottish steamboat developers include James Taylor, Patrick Miller, and William Symington.  This day, August 26, in the year 1791, American inventor John Fitch received a patent for his oar-driven steamboat, the Perseverance.  Lacking financial backers, Fitch could not fully develop his invention.  It took until 1807, when Robert Fulton established a profitable steamboat business based on Fitch's innovation.