Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cumnor Hall

Cumnor Hall was to have been the original title of what became Walter Scott’s “Kenilworth”, which was published in 1821.  The balled of the same name, by William Julius Mickle, provided inspiration for Scott in taking on this endeavor.  

The dews of summer nighte did falle,
The moone (sweete regente of the skye)
Silver'd the walles of Cumnor Halle,
And manye an oake that grewe therebye....

On January 31st, 1829, we find Scott reading another Cumnor Hall: ‘…Looked over Cumnor Hall by Mr. Usher Tighe of Oxford. I see from the inscription on Tony Foster's tomb that he was a skilful planter, amongst other fashionable accomplishments….’

The book in question is Hugh Usher Tighe’s “An Historical Account of Cumner…”, which reached the public in 1821, the same year “Kenilworth” was published.  Tighe provides useful background on Cumner and Scott’s “Kenilworth” in the introduction to his work. 

‘The deep interest so deservedly felt, and so openly evinced for every production which emanates from the highly gifted “Author of Waverley”, reflects a corresponding interest on every subject connected with a Tale on which the finest feelings of the mind are unavoidably concentrated.  These sentiments, so universally excited by the perusal of this author’s former Tales, can assuredly not have been lessened by his last production of “Kenilworth”, which, perhaps from the circumstances of the case, form the melancholy story of a very young and lovely woman, contending with villainy and treachery, and struggling with the most trying hardships and privations, appeals more closely to the human heart, and is more calculated to excite the warm emotions of pity, than any of his earlier works.  It is on the prevalence of these feelings, that I venture to hope, that some account of Cumner where the scene of this fascinating story is  principally laid, and the narration of the facts, as given by Ashmole in his Antiquities of Berkshire, may not be deemed utterly devoid of interest….I annex the facts of this melancholy story, as related by Ashmole, and which is alluded to in the latter part of “Kenilworth”.  The same narration, in the same words, may be found in Anthony Wood’s MSS in the Ashmoleon collection…’ 

Monday, January 30, 2012

William Carleton

Irish novelist William Carleton, according to many who knew something of both he and Walter Scott, bore a fair resemblance to the Wizard of the North.  According to David O’Donohue, who edited Carleton’s autobiography, it was a comparison that Carleton enjoyed. From that work: ‘I (Irish artist Edmund Fitzpatrick)went with Father Meehan in Mr. (James) Duffy’s brougham to visit Carleton, and got a most kind reception from him.  After taking stock of me for a minute or two, he said: ‘Come, now, tell me who am I like?’ I said he was exactly like busts I had seen of Sir Walter Scott.  ‘So I am,’ said he, giving the table a whack; ‘I am glad you perceived the likeness.’

For some, the comparison went beyond physical similarities, placing Carleton on near footing with Scott.  Carleton aimed, according to himself, to be a “historian of their (the Irish) habits and manners…”, and quoting again from his autobiography comes the comment that ‘..He is not a mere chronicler – not more so, at any rate, than Sir Walter Scott, whom universal testimony declares to be a great writer, notwithstanding- for Irish people have too many points of similarity with those of other nations to be reckoned a race apart.  ‘

The author of “Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry” died on January 30th, 1869.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

George III Passes

‘The long reign of George the Third was brought to a close on the 29th of January, 1820.  The chief interest of the people in this event, seemed to consist in its depriving them of their sixty years holiday on the 4th of June.  On the following Sunday Sir Harry Moncreiff not satisfied with merely praying for the new sovereign generally, said in plain terms, giving the very date, that there might be no mistake about it, “And oh Lord, stablish his heart in righteousness, and in the principles of the glorious revolution of sixteen hunder and ecthy echt”…’

The text above comes from Lord Henry Cockburn’s “Memorials of his Time”.  Concerning this Hanoverian monarch, Sir Walter Scott wrote: ‘George the Third labored under some disadvantages, which for a long time obscured his highly estimable qualities.  Notwithstanding what we have said of his personal qualities, his education had been narrow and confined in an unusual degree, and no adequate pains had been taken either to form his external manners, or to cultivate his mind in classical or polite literature…’  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cooper's Prairie

‘January 28 [1828].—I am in the scrape of sitting for my picture, and had to repair for two hours to-day to Mr. Colvin Smith—Lord Gillies's nephew. The Chief Baron had the kindness to sit with me great part of the time, as the Chief Commissioner had done on a late occasion. The picture is for the Chief Commissioner, and the Chief Baron desires a copy. I trust it will he a good one. At home in the evening, and wrote. I am well on before the press, notwithstanding late hours, lassitude, and laziness. I have read Cooper's Prairie—better, I think, than his Red Rover, in which you never get foot on shore, and to understand entirely the incidents of the story it requires too much knowledge of nautical language. It's very clever, though.

“The Prairie” was Scott’s friend James Fenimore Cooper’s third novel, published in 1827, which Scott certainly enjoyed more than “The Red Rover”, which was published early in 1828.  Scott read "The Red Rover" two weeks earlier.  The text above comes from Scott's journal.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tally ho to the Fox

‘On June 27, 1806, Scott wrote his “Health to Lord Melville”, the Tory governing spirit of Scotland, whom the Whigs were impeaching.  James Ballantyne sang this lay at a public dinner on Lord Melville’s acquittal.  The Princess of Wales was saluted in this song, which contained the words “Tally ho to the Fox” (C.J. Fox).  This does not appear an amazing indiscretion, in a parcel of party verses, but the Whigs were greatly shocked…’

Walter Scott’s Tory sentiment is evident in the text above, which comes from Andrew Lang’s “Sir Walter Scott”.  Whig Charles James Fox did not last much past June of 1806, dying the following September (13th).  Fox was opposed to the war with Napoleon, who he met three times in 1798.  Fox was, therefore, at odds with William Pitt (the younger) who had pushed for war with France.  Pitt died earlier, in January of the same year. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jupiter Carlyle

The Reverend Alexander Carlyle was born on January 26, 1772.  Known as Jupiter, from his striking profile, Carlyle rose to a very high position in the Church of Scotland.  From his autobiography comes the following, concerning Sir Walter Scott:

‘Sir Walter Scott has left a colloquial sketch of him, which, though of the briefest, is broad and colossal as a scrap from the pencil of Michael Angelo. He is discoursing of the countenances of poets; some that represented the divinity of genius, and others that signally failed in that respect. " Well," said he, " the grandest demigod I ever saw was Dr Carlyle, minister of Musselburgh, commonly called Jupiter Carlyle, from having sat more than once for the king of gods and men to Gavin Hamilton ; and a shrewd clever old carle was he, no doubt, but no more a poet than his precentor."…’

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Passion Gutted

In 1938, author Virginia Wolff traveled north for the first time, though she had previously published Skye-based “To the Lighthouse”.  As related in Robert Crawford’s “Scotland’s Books”, reaching Dryburgh Abbey, she ‘gutted my passion for Scott on his tomb – like chocolate blanc-mange’.

Virginal Wolff was born on January 25, 1882.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chevalier Yelin

‘January 24 [1826].—…Went to the funeral of Chevalier Yelin, the literary foreigner mentioned on 22d. How many and how various are the ways of affliction! Here is this poor man dying at a distance from home, his proud heart broken, his wife and family anxiously expecting letters, and doomed only to learn they have lost a husband and father for ever. He lies buried on the Calton Hill, near learned and scientific dust—the graves of David Hume and John Playfair being side by side…’
 In Lockhart’s note to Scott’s Journal, he points out that Chevalier Yelin was told by his wife that he could not leave Edinburgh without meeting the great bard (Scott).  He hoped to meet Scott at a meeting of the Royal Society, days earlier, during which he was to deliver a paper.  The meeting with Scott never occurred.  Scott was not there that night, and Yelin died before reaching the Royal Society event.  The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal published the following on Chevalier Yelin:
 ‘M. Le Chevalier Yelin, a learned Bavarian, discovered some time ago, that needles of steel become magnetic when placed in a glass tube surrounded by a magnetic spiral, and when electrical sparks or the charge of a Leyden battery were transmitted along the spiral…’ 

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Walk with Skene

On January 23rd, 1826, in his journal, Walter Scott recorded walking with old friend JamesSkene, after midnight, during a particularly difficult stretch of writing.

‘…Wrote till twelve A.M., finishing half of what I call a good day's work—ten pages of print, or rather twelve. Then walked in Princes Street pleasure-grounds with good Samaritan James Skene, the only one among my numerous friends who can properly be termed amicus curarum mearum, others being too busy or too gay, and several being estranged by habit…’

Lockhart’s notes to Scott’s Journal include this item from “Mr’s Skene’s Reminiscences” of Scott:

On his return from this walk, Mr. Skene wrote out his recollections of the conversation that had taken place. Of his power to rebuild his shattered fortunes, Scott said, "'But woe's me, I much mistrust my vigour, for the best of my energies are already expended. You have seen, my dear Skene, the Roman coursers urged to their speed by a loaded spur attached to their backs to whet the rusty metal of their ager—ay! it is a leaden spur indeed, and it goads hard.'
"I added, 'But what do you think, Scott, of the bits of flaming paper that are pasted on the flanks of the poor jades? If we could but stick certain small documents on your back, and set fire to them, I think you might submit for a time to the pricking of the spur.' He laughed, and said, 'Ay! Ay!—these weary bills, if they were but as the thing that is not—come, cheer me up with an account of the Roman Carnival.' And, accordingly, with my endeavour to do so, he seemed as much interested as if nothing had happened to discompose the usual tenor of his mind, but still our conversation ever and anon dropt back into the same subject, in the course of which he said to me, 'Do you know I experience a sort of determined pleasure in confronting the very worst aspect of this sudden reverse,—in standing, as it were, in the breach that has overthrown my fortunes, and saying, Here I stand, at least an honest man. And God knows, if I have enemies, this I may at least with truth say, that I have never wittingly given cause of enmity in the whole course of my life, for even the burnings of political hate seemed to find nothing in my nature to feed the flame. I am not conscious of having borne a grudge towards any man, and at this moment of my overthrow, so help me God, I wish well and feel kindly to every one. And if I thought that any of my works contained a sentence hurtful to any one's feelings, I would burn it. I think even my novels (for he did not disown any of them) are free from that blame.'
"He had been led to make this protestation from my having remarked to him the singularly general feeling of goodwill and sympathy towards him which every one was anxious to testify upon the present occasion. The sentiments of resignation and of cheerful acquiescence in the dispensation of the Almighty which he expressed were those of a Christian thankful for the blessings left, and willing, without ostentation, to do his best. It was really beautiful to see the workings of a strong and upright mind under the first lash of adversity calmly reposing upon the consolation afforded by his own integrity and manful purposes. 'Lately,' he said, 'you saw me under the apprehension of the decay of my mental faculties, and I confess that I was under mortal fear when I found myself writing one word for another, and misspelling every word, but that wore off, and was perhaps occasioned by the effects of the medicine I had been taking, but have I not reason to be thankful that that misfortune did not assail me?—Ay! few have more reason to feel grateful to the Disposer of all events than I have.'"