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Thursday, 24 September 2009

Scottish delights

BBC4 have been running a Scottish season over the past few days, which I’ve greatly enjoyed, although I’ve still got some on video to watch. It was lovely to see the comic take on Dr Johnson’s Tour to the Western Isles with Robbie Coltrane and John Sessions. But I was sorry I missed the 1964 drama-documentary on Culloden, so I hope it gets aired again sometime.
I’m a big fan of walking dictionary Jonathan Meades; I always learn some new words from him, and it's a great pity he was born too late to cross swords with Sam Johnson. A big thank you to Jonathan for his Off Kilter programme last night, which took away the tedium of waiting for my pear chutney to reduce down in the pan! Respect is due.
Image: Johnson giving alms to a poor family on the isle of Col: ‘There was but one bed for all the family, and the hut was very smoky.’ Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, (National Illustrated Library, circa 1852.)

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Lost Literary Gems

I had no end of problems with Microsoft Word crashing last week, so I hope it is better behaved this week. One might think that writers such as Jane Austen and Lord Byron would have found it much easier to preserve their work, as they wrote on good old pen and paper. But of course once they were gone, their work was at the mercy of their relatives. Cassandra Austen’s ruthless bonfire of her sister’s letters is notorious; we have virtually none of Jane’s letters left in which she really bares her soul. Lord Byron’s memoirs were burnt by his friends after his tragically early death at Missolonghi in Greece. I have always thought this was a bizarre decision considering that his alleged misdeeds were public knowledge anyway. My latest feature for the The New Writer looks at other lost literary gems, and discusses the importance of always keeping a copy of your work.

Image: Lord George Gordon Byron. Engraving from Beeton’s Dictionary of Universal Biography, (Ward, Lock & Son, 1870.)

Saturday, 12 September 2009

What an honour!

A big 'Thank You' to Jane GS, who nominated this blog for a Superior Scribbling Award!

Here are the rules for the award:

1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends

2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.

3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post which explains The Award.

4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!

5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Here are my nominations:

1. First of all, Jane GS herself - it's always great to meet a fellow Mrs Gaskell fan.
2. Jane Odiwe - there's always something new to read on her Jane Austen Sequels blog, which is just the thing for a rainy day.
3. Austenprose - a must for Jane Austen fans
4. The Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide - always an interesting read
5. Jane Austen in Vermont -another indefatigable Austen blogger.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Jane Austen the blogger?

What would Jane Austen have thought of the internet? If she was alive today, would she be busy writing a blog, or perhaps have her own Facebook page? She could watch the ups and downs of the Amazon rankings for her books – surely she would have had some ironic comments to say on that heart-stopping author obsession.

Jane was a very private person, so it may be she wouldn’t have bared her soul online. But other Georgian writers, such as that inveterate scribbler James Boswell, would probably have embraced the internet. In ‘Would Jane Blog?’ my latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World, I take a look at writers such as Boswell and Captain Gronow , whose Reminiscences and Recollections (1862-1866) are strikingly similar to blog posts.

Image: Regency Dandies. From left to right: Marquis of Londonderry, ‘Kangaroo’ Cooke, Captain Gronow, Lord Allen, Count D’Orsay. Colonel ‘Kangaroo’ Captain Gronow’s Recollections and Anecdotes, (Smith, Elder & Co., 1864.)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The rage for emigration

This month is the tercentenary of Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Johnson, the son of a Lichfield bookseller, had an immense sympathy and understanding with the common man. He endured grinding poverty for many years, but his profound intellect and writing ability won him a lasting literary reputation. His masterly Dictionary of the English Language (1755) alone would have secured him an honourable place in literary history. But of course, Johnson’s meeting in 1763 with an impressionable young Scot, James Boswell, led to a lasting friendship and a ground-breaking literary biography: Boswell’s Life of Johnson (1791).

During the late summer and autumn of 1773, this intrepid duo travelled to the Hebrides. Their journey took place when many Scottish folk were taking ship for the Americas in search of a new life. Johnson described how ordinary Scots lived and immortalised a now long-lost way of life in his Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland in 1775; Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides appeared ten years later.

Was one of your ancestors one of those who left their native land forever? You can discover more about their way of life, and tips for exploring your family history, in ‘The rage for emigration,’ my latest feature for Discover My Past magazine.

Images: ‘Johnson on a Highland Sheltie,’ and ‘Johnson and Highland children.' Boswell spotted one pretty girl, but commented the other villagers were ‘black and wild in their appearance.’ Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, (National Illustrated Library, circa 1852.)