Posted in Country House, Literature, Theatre History

Elizabeth Montagu – Literary Critic, Blue Stocking & Arts Patron

Studies of Shakspere by Charles Knight (1851). From my own collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Studies of Shakspere by Charles Knight (1851). From my own collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 2016, it will be the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) death. A full programme of public performances, television programmes, exhibitions and creative activities are being organised in London and beyond. Shakespeare400 is a consortium of leading cultural, creative and educational organisations.

Inside cover of my copy of Shakspere Studies by Charles Knight (1851). ©Come Step Back In Time
Inside cover of my copy of Studies of Shakspere by Charles Knight (1851). ©Come Step Back In Time

In light of this anniversary, I was recently browsing my bookshelves and came across a copy of Studies of Shakspere by Charles Knight (1851), I completely forgot I had this book. I am always thrilled when my collection manages to delight and surprise me. I have been buying secondhand books for over 30 years now. I began in my teenage years and, back then, could often be found in a dusty bookshop rather than partying hard at a disco (I grew-up in the 70s and 80s when discos were still ‘a thing’!)

I wouldn’t describe Studies of Shakspere as a ‘light read’ (yes, that is how ‘Shakespeare’ is spelt here, before you all rush to post a corrective comment below).  It is a book to ‘dip in and out of’ which is the way I mostly like to engage with my books anyway.

During one of my bedtime browsing sessions, I came across the writings of Mrs Elizabeth Montagu nee Robinson (c.1718-1800). Quoted in Knight’s book, alongside other notable writers and critics of the Georgian era, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784),  Martin Sherlock and David Hume (1711-1776), Elizabeth has a powerful voice. A female critic of Shakespeare? I was intrigued to find-out more.

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  • English writer Mrs Elizabeth Montagu nee Robinson. Published by Payne. January, 1760.

Brilliant in diamonds, solid in judgement, critical in talk.

(Hester Thrale (1741-1821) writing to Fanny Burney (1752-1840) about Elizabeth Montagu)

Elizabeth was a Yorkshire-born social reformer, arts patron and leading light of the Blue Stockings Society. She wasn’t a great fan of marriage and didn’t harbour particularly strong romantic feelings for men. However, despite these opinions on romantic entanglements, men adored her. They were drawn to Elizabeth’s wit, intelligence, beauty and charisma.

Women were just as fascinated by Elizabeth. In her social circle of Age of Enlightenment luminaries, fellow writer, Hester Lynch Piozzi (1741-1821) gave Elizabeth the highest of charm ratings, 101 out of a possible 120. Mrs Piozzi also credits Irish intellectual, Elizabeth Vesey (1715-91), with adoring Elizabeth as much as she hated her own husband. This was, after all, also the age of the romantic friendship when women of a certain class could indulge intense, platonic, relationships with her own sex.

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  • Hannah More (1745-1833) English religious writer and playwright, and member of the Blue Stocking circle of intelligent educated women, being introduced to Society by the Duchess of Gloucester. Wood engraving, 1753.

Elizabeth was a leader of the famous Blue Stockings Society. The Society, which started in the 1750s, was a very tight-circle of women who met in the London homes of fashionable hostesses such as Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey (c1715-1791) and Frances Boscawen (1719-1805).

In the 1770s, Elizabeth Montagu hosted salons in Hill Street, London, which became home to some of the best salons in London. Her salons attracted the biggest literary and creative names of the age: Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, David Garrick and Horace Walpole.

The name ‘Blue Stocking’ was first used as an abusive term to insult the Puritans of Cromwell’s ‘Little Parliament’ in 1653. In Elizabeth’s time, it was used to describe botanist, Benjamin Stillingfleet’s (1702-71),  who is thought to have turned-up to one of Elizabeth’s salons wearing blue woollen stockings. This style of stocking would normally have been worn by working men, gentlemen normally wore formal, white silk stockings

Elizabeth and her fellow Bluestockings were also important Arts Patrons, supporting a whole host of female authors: Elizabeth Carter; Hannah More; Frances Burney; Anna Barbauld; Sarah Fielding; Hester Chapone and Anna Williams. The Blue Stockings promoted friendship, philanthropy, education (particularly of women), arts patronage and creativity.

Prior to her marriage Elizabeth Montagu had many suitors, all of whom found their advances and declarations swiftly dismissed. The following extract is from Elizabeth Montagu, the Queen of the Bluestockings: Her Correspondence from 1720-1761 (2 Vols, London: John Murray, 1906) by Emily Climenson).  Elizabeth writes to her sister Sarah Scott nee Robinson (1723-1795), about one such unlucky suitor, Mr Brockman of Beechborough:

Poor Mr B [Mr Brockman of Beechborough] really takes his misfortunes so to heart that he literally dying, indeed I hear he is very ill, which I am sorry for, but I have no balsam of heartsease for him, if he should die I will have him buried in Westminster Abbey next the woman that died of a prick of a finger, for it is quite as extraordinary, and he shall have his figure languishing in wax…..upon my word I compassionate his pains, and pity him, but as I am as compassionate, I am as cold too as Charity…. I am very sorry if the poor man is really what you think, unhappy; if his case is uneasy I am sure it is desperate; complaint I hope, is more the language, than misery the condition, of lovers.

To speak ingenuously you men use us oddly enough, you adore the pride, flatter the vanity, gratify the ill-nature, and obey the tyranny that insults you; then slight the love, despise the affection, and enslave the obedience that would make you happy: when frowning mistresses all are awful goddesses, when submissive wives, despicable mortals.

On another occasion, in 1742, Elizabeth wrote to Rev. William Friend expressing her characteristically strong opinions on marriage, flattery of the female sex, love, the superficiality of physical attraction and other matters of the heart.

Flattery has ever been the ladder to power, and I have detested its inverted effects of worshipping one into slavery, while it has pretended to adore one to deification. If ever I commit my happiness to the hands of any person, it must be one whose indulgence I can trust, for flattery I cannot believe.

I am sure I have faults, and am convinced a husband will find them, but wish he may forgive them; but vanity is apt to seek the admirer, rather than the friend, not considering that the passion of love may, but the effect of esteem can never, degenerate to dislike. I do not mean to exclude love, but I mean to guard against the fondness that arises from personal advantages….

I have known many men see all the cardinal virtues in a good complexion, and every ornament of a character in a pair of fine eyes, and they have married these perfections, which might perhaps shine and bloom a twelvemonth, and then alas! (Ibid.)

Despite her views, Elizabeth did wed. In 1742 she married Edward Montagu (1692-1776), grandson of the Ist Earl of Sandwich (1625-1672). It was a financially and socially advantageous union despite their 28 year age gap (Elizabeth was 22, Edward 50). For the most part, it was an amicable union that produced one son, John (b.1743), whom Elizabeth doted on. She was devastated when he died a year later. The couple had no more pregnancies or children.

Elizabeth kept a female companion who performed in the role of servant. By all accounts, the young woman was not happy in her ‘role’ and escaped, as soon as possible, into marriage. Some theories put forward have suggested that Elizabeth’s female companion was actually her only sister, Sarah Scott nee Robinson (1723-1795).

Sarah was a prolific writer, more so than her sister Elizabeth, publishing her works anonymously.  Sarah’s most famous publication was her utopian novel A Description of Millenium Hall and the Country Adjacent (1762), closely followed by the sequel The History of Sir George Ellison (1766).

In 1751, Sarah married mathematician and tutor to the Prince of Wales, George Lewis Scott (1708-1780), a marriage Elizabeth disapproved of vehemently. Elizabeth felt so strongly about the marriage, that she became temporarily estranged from her sister. Elizabeth’s instincts were correct. George was a bit of scoundrel but details of what actually went wrong with the marriage are sketchy. It is thought the marriage was one of convenience. There were also rumours that he had attempted to poison Sarah. The couple separated in 1752.

Elizabeth had strong, well-informed, opinions on many topics but none more so than on the subject of literature. One of Elizabeth’s most celebrated publications was Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare (1769). It is this book which is quoted and referred to in my copy of Studies of Shakspere by Charles Knight (1851).

In her writing, Elizabeth confidently defends Shakespeare’s texts against French writer Voltaire’s (1694-1778) attacks. Elizabeth earned literary recognition for this essay and by 1785 it had run to 4 editions. Originally published anonymously, it was thought the book had been written by Joseph Warton (1722-1800) but by 1777, Elizabeth’s name appeared on the title page.

In the essay, she endorses Shakespeare’s writings as a vehicle to promote morality and educate the masses. She also declares, that although Shakespeare’s  plays lack formal and classical structure, they do have a natural simplicity and truth of expression.

Inside cover of my copy of Shakspere Studies by Charles Knight (1851). ©Come Step Back In Time
Inside cover of my copy of Shakspere Studies by Charles Knight (1851). ©Come Step Back In Time

Below are a few extracts from Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare, quoted in Studies of Shakspere by Charles Knight (1851). Knight refers to Elizabeth’s attack upon Shakespeare as being rather a ‘maudlin defence’ (p.542) and its ‘half-patronising, half-vindicating tone is very well meant’ (p.543). In fact, Elizabeth praises Shakespeare’s genius for most of the essay, declaring him to be the ‘greatest poet’.

Elizabeth also wrote specifically on his characters, plots and quality of verse. The extract below makes reference to Shakespeare’s lack of formal education. Elizabeth does not hold back with her intellectual snobbery:

Our author [Shakespeare], by following minutely the chronicles of the times, has embarrassed his dramas with too great a number of persons and events. The hurly-burly of these plays recommended them to a rude, illiterate audience, who, as he says, loved a noise of targets. His poverty, and the low conditions of the stage (which at that time was not frequented by persons of rank), obliged him to this complaisance; and, unfortunately, he had not been tutored by any rules of art, or informed by acquaintance with just and regular dramas. (Ibid. p. 542)

On Macbeth:

Our author is too much addicted to the obscure bombast much affected by all sorts of writers in that age…There are many bombast speeches in the tragedy of ‘Macbeth’ and these are the lawful prize of the critic. (Ibid. p.542)

On Julius Caesar:

The quarrel between Brutus and Cassius does not, by any means, deserve the ridicule thrown upon it by the French critic [Voltaire]….but it rather retards than brings forward the catastrophe, and is useful only in setting Brutus in a good light. (Ibid. p542)

On William Shakespeare:

It has been demonstrated with great ingenuity and candour that he was destitute of learning: the age was rude and void of taste; but what had a still more pernicious influence on his works was, that the court and the universities, the statesmen and scholars, affected a scientific jargon. An obscurity of expression was thought the veil of wisdom and knowledge; and that mist, common to the morn and eve of literature, which in fact proves it is not at its high meridian, was affectedly thrown over the writings, and even the conversation of the learned, who often preferred images distorted or magnified, to a simple exposition of their thoughts.

Shakspeare is never more worthy of the true critic’s censure than in those instances in which he complies with this false pomp of manner. It was pardonable in a man of his rank not be more polite and delicate than his contemporaries; but we cannot so easily excuse such superiority of talents for stooping to say affectation. (Ibid. pp. 542-3)

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  • Elizabeth Montagu’s house in Portman Square, London, c1800

In 1777, Elizabeth began work on Montagu House in Portman Square, London and moved there in 1781. Suring this decade her salons became increasingly more opulent attracting an even wider circle of literary luminaries. She called the mansion in Portman Square her ‘temple to virtue and friendship’. Samuel Johnson called her the ‘Queen of the Blues’.

Elizabeth died in Montagu House on 25th August, 1800. She left most of her property and money to her nephew, Matthew Montagu, 4th Baron Rokeby (1762-1831). He published a collection of his aunt’s letters in 1809, The Letters of Mrs Elizabeth Montagu, with Some of the Letters of her Correspondents.

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  • It was at Elizabeth’s Mayfair salons the term ‘Bluestocking’ was coined.



Posted in Activity, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, History, Literature, Maritime History, Museum, Review, Theatre History, World War One

Heath Robinson Exhibition – St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery

 © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.
‘The Fairy’s Birthday’. Pen, ink and watercolour by Heath Robinson published in Holly Leaves, December, 1925, p.21. Heath Robinson’s goblins appeared in the Christmas Numbers of a variety of magazines between 1919-1929. They are distinguished by their homely and somewhat bumbling appearance. They may be short-sighted, overweight and suffer from pains in their joints or shortness of breath. They may have a rustic quality and may well have been based on the characters that Heath met in and around Cranleigh. © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.

I was delighted to be asked to review an exhibition showcasing a collection of precise ink drawings and delicate watercolours by William Heath Robinson (1872 – 1944) which is currently on at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire until Saturday 20th April, 2013. The Heath Robinson exhibition is supported by Rathbones investment management services. This exhibition, from the William Heath Robinson Trust, showcases illustrations he produced for works by William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson and Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) as well as for his own books. There will also, of course, be a number of his much-loved designs for eccentric contraptions and humorous drawings.

Heath Robinson has become a byword for the eccentric and rickety inventions which he created. In the 1930s, he was known as the ‘Gadget King’, a remarkable title given that in real life Heath was not very practically minded. He had only ever been abroad once, towards the end of the First World War, when he illustrated scenes from the western front. At the beginning of his career he was ranked with Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) and Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) as one of Britain’s foremost illustrators.

Heath counted among his friends, authors H.G. Wells (1866-1946) and Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Heath illustrated Kipling’s A Song of The English (1909, published by Hodder & Stoughton), which celebrated Edwardian pride in the Empire. Heath visited Kipling in Sussex to discuss the book. Illustrations from the publication feature in the exhibition.

Heath was born on 31st May 1872 at 25 Ennis Road, Stroud Green, London. His father Thomas Robinson (1838-1902) chief illustrator of Penny Illustrated Paper and his mother, Eliza Heath (1849-1921), an innkeeper’s daughter. The Robinsons had seven children, Heath was their third child. Heath’s elder brothers Thomas (1869-1953) and Charles (1870-1937) also became well-known book illustrators.

Heath attended Miss Mole’s dame-school, Holloway College from 1880 to 1884 and Islington proprietary school from 1884 to 1887. He did not thrive in education, a fact which his father recognised removing him, aged fifteen, from the proprietary school and sending him instead to Islington Art School, where he remained for five years. He won a studentship to the Royal Academy Schools, graduating in January 1897, aged twenty-five. Whilst at the RA, Heath had become an accomplished landscape painter but subsequently struggled to make a living selling his artworks. Heath’s passion for painting remained with him for the rest of his life, in his spare time he continued to produce landscapes, experimenting with effects of light and colour, as well as figure studies in watercolour.

In order to further his artistic career he decided to join his brothers who were already working as illustrators. Although being an illustrator was a respectable profession, it could be notoriously difficult to make a living from. However, Heath had real talent for humorous art which made him much in demand, especially in the world of advertising. He also took the occasional commission for book and magazine illustrations (The Sketch, The Bystander and The Tatler).

Some of Heath’s earliest book illustrations were published in 1897 and by 1900 he had illustrated editions of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, Fairy Tales From Hans Christian Anderson (1899, published by J. M. Dent) and The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1900, these illustrations were influenced by the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)). Copies of the Poe publication are extremely rare, a limited edition of only seventy-five copies were produced, printed on Japanese vellum. He illustrated Anderson’s Fairy Tales with his brothers, Thomas and Charles.

'The Aeronaut' by Heath Robinson © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.
‘The Aeronaut’ by Heath Robinson © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.

Heath’s fortunes improved when he illustrated his own fantasy for children The Adventures of Uncle Lubin (1902, published by Grant Richards). He wrote about this publication in his biography, My Line of Life (1938, published by Blackie & Son): ‘The story is episodic in form, telling the tale of Uncle Lubin, a little old man in a tall hat and long coat, as he attempts to retrieve his nephew, Baby Peter, from the clutches of the wicked bag-bird.’

This book was particularly important, although not a best seller, it did earn Heath enough money to enable him to marry Josephine Constance Latey (1878-1974), the daughter of newspaper editor John Latey, on 30th April, 1903, they set-up home in Holloway Road. As luck would have it, a Canadian by name of Chase Ed. Potter had read Lubin and commissioned Heath to illustrate some advertisements he was writing for Lamson Paragon Supply Company. Heath was paid, in cash, for each drawing.

In 1903, Heath embarked upon his most ambitious project to-date, The Works of Mr Francis Rabelais, commissioned by Grant Richards. The book contained two hundred and fifty-four illustrations, a hundred of which were full-page illustrations, the rest smaller ones. The book was published in 1904 in two large quarto volumes to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, Grant Richards went bankrupt in November 1904 leaving Heath short of the monies that he had hoped to earn.

Heath moved to Pinner, Middlesex, in 1908 and lived there with his family until 1918, residing at Moy Lodge from 1910. Following his move to Pinner and until 1914, Heath continued to produce book illustrations as well as cartoons for The Sketch and The Strand Magazine, amongst other periodicals. He moved to Cranleigh in Surrey in 1918 remaining there until 1929, when he relocated to Highgate, London. In Highgate, he first lived in Shepherd’s Hill and later 25 Southwood Avenue, close to where he had spent a majority of his childhood.

Rough sketch for doubling Gloucester cheese by Heath Robinson.© William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.
‘Rough sketch for doubling Gloucester cheese’ by Heath Robinson.
© William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.

One of Heath’s finest achievements as an illustrator were forty-one pen and ink drawings for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1914, published by Constable & Co). A contemporary review, in The Times Literary Supplement, described the publication as: ‘The most complete and beautiful specimen before us of an illustrated book as a single work of art…’. A copy of the publication is on display in the exhibition. There is an inscription in the front of this book, which is on display in the exhibition, from Heath to his mother: ‘To my good mother with very best wishes from her affectionate son, will.’

In 1915, Heath produced illustrations for The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) (published by Constable & Co). The edition was originally planned as a lavish gift book but due to the economic climate at the end of World War One, it was published as a modest octavo volume. The illustrations are some of Heath’s finest and show a clear influence of Japanese prints. The Japanese style influenced an entire generation of illustrators.

At the end of World War One, despite the market for lavishly illustrated gift books having all but disappeared, Heath’s talents were still in demand. He obtained a number of commissions for illustrations to appear in advertisements and magazines. Between 1903 and 1942, he produced about a hundred advertising drawings for a wide range of products including Mackintosh Toffees, biscuits, asbestos cement roofs, whiskey and paper. He had a particular talent for parodying the processes by which the various products were made as well as contrasting some of the more desirable qualities of these products. The drawings often took the form of ‘before and after’, i.e. unhappy scenes where the product was absent and happy scenes where the product’s inclusion made everything appear better. A campaign of particular note was for Hovis bread.

German breaches of the Hague Conention - Huns using siphons of laughing gas to overcome our troops before an attack in close formation. Pen, ink, watercolour and bodycolour. Published in The Sketch, August 1915. © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.
‘German breaches of the Hague Convention – Huns using siphons of laughing gas to overcome our troops before an attack in close formation.’ Pen, ink, watercolour and bodycolour. Published in The Sketch, August 1915. © William Heath Robinson Trust. St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery.

Between 1920 and 1936, Heath produced over two hundred drawings for Connolly Bros. (Curriers) Ltd, a majority of which are still in the company’s possession. These collection of drawings were published by the firm as Heath Robinson on Leather, to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary, in 1928, and were reissued to mark the company’s centenary in 1978. The exhibition includes examples of Heath’s illustrations for both Hovis and the Connolly Bros. (Curriers) Ltd. A particularly delightful illustration for the latter is ‘William the Conqueror appreciates the comfort of leather when crossing the Channel’, pen and ink, 1933.

In January 1921, Heath was commissioned by Jonathan Cape to produce colour illustrations for a complete works of Shakespeare. He completed the drawings in June 1922.  Unfortunately, only a handful of these colour illustrations still exist, several rare examples of which are in the exhibition. Jonathan Cape could not find an American partner to share the cost of publication and because of the continuing decline in the market for illustrated books, the edition was never published.

In 1927, Heath produced sixteen designs in full colour, based on popular nursery rhymes, which featured on a range of nursery china for Soane & Smith, Knightsbridge. The china was produced by W. R. Midwinter of Burslem, Staffordshire. Examples from this range can been seen in the exhibition. The attention to detail in the frieze of children’s faces is exquisite. This frieze appeared on the inside rim of cups, bowls and around the outside edge of plates and porringers.

Other characters featured included: goblins; Jack Spratt and his wife; Tom, Tom the Piper’s son and the old woman who lived in a shoe. The range was extensive and ran to cereal bowls, saucers, jam pots, sugar bowls, mugs, egg cups and even a tureen.  The service was so popular that it was later sold through a variety of outlets, although the later designs were simplified with the frieze of children’s faces replaced by a simple band of dark blue or pale green.

One of my favourite drawings in the exhibition is a pen, ink and watercolour sketch produced by Heath in 1930 for the luxury trans-Atlantic liner, RMS Empress of Britain (1931) operated by Canadian Pacific Steamship Company which was built in Scotland. The sketch is divided into two parts, the top features a suggested design for ‘The ‘Knickerbocker’ Cocktail Bar’ and the bottom half of the sketch is a design for ‘The Children’s Room’. A closer look at the drawing for the Cocktail Bar reveals some of Heath’s humorous touches. This illustration draws its inspiration from experiences of drinking a cocktail, which according to Heath make you affectionate, give you courage, nerve and produce human kindness. There is also a Cocktail Bird, A Pleasant Surprise and Cocktail shaking in the East.

The Empress of Britain operated from 1931 until 1939 as a steam passenger liner designed to carry 1,195 passengers (465 first class, 260 second class and 470 third class). During the summer months it sailed along the England-Canada route. In 1939, it was requisitioned for war work and became a troop carrier. It was torpedoed on 28th October, 1940 by a German U-boat (U-32) on the northwest of Bloody Foreland, County Donegal, Ireland. Mystery still surrounds the cargo it was supposed to be carrying at the time. It was thought to have been a shipment of gold, bound for North America, a fact that has never been proved.

Another intriguing pen and ink drawing, which I last saw whilst an art history undergraduate, is from How To Live In A Flat (1936), by W. H. Robinson and K.R.G. Browne, published by Hutchison & Co. ‘The One-Piece Chromium Steel Dining Suite’ makes a striking social statement about the popularity of flat-dwelling in the interwar years and contains humorous touches by Heath. In the following extract from the publication, explanation is given for another of Heath’s illustrations: ‘A vote of thanks, therefore, is due to Mr Heath Robinson for demonstrating that a certain amount of quiet fun can be extracted even from the last word in geometrical carpetry. Carpet draughts, they tell me, is just the thing for the long winter evenings, and as it can be played sitting-down – will keep the old folks happy and amused while the young people are out at the movies.’ (Robinson & Browne, 1936, p.42).

In 1944, Heath underwent exploratory surgery, following which he returned home to Southwood Avenue, Highgate, where he died of a stroke on 13th September, later on in the same year. He is buried at St. Marylebone cemetery, East Finchley. This quality exhibition is a delight for both children and adults, it is guaranteed to make you smile and raise a chuckle.

Tickets to the Heath Robinson exhibition and St. Barbe Museum, which is open between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Saturday, cost £4 for adults, £3 for senior citizens and students, £2 for children aged five to 15, and £10 for a family of two adults and up to four children; under fives are admitted free of charge. For more details visit or telephone 01590 676969.

  • Thursday 11th April, 2013, 10.30am-3.30pm there is a Heath Robinson themed Family Explorer Day at St. Barbe Museum. The Museum’s Explorer Days are engaging and fun hands-on creative activities for children and their family, including the opportunity to handle museum objects. Price is included in admission. Day ticket: Adult £4, Concession £3, Child £2, Family £10. For further information, CLICK HERE.

    Arts & Crafts selling Exhibition featuring the work of regional artists. The Old School Gallery, St. Barbe Museum, Lymington.
    Arts & Crafts selling Exhibition featuring work by regional artists, currently on at The Old School Gallery, St. Barbe Museum, Lymington until 13th April, 2013.

Arts & Crafts Exhibition – 9th March until 13th April, 2013

The Old School Gallery – St. Barbe Museum

An added bonus when you visit the Heath Robinson exhibition, is the Arts and Crafts Exhibition currently on at The Old School Gallery, located in the same building as the Museum. This is the Museum’s first selling exhibition, showcasing arts and crafts by regional artists:  Carol-Anne Savage (contemporary jewellery); Victoria Garland Prints (Prints); Mrs Ollie Chappell (Raku Ceramics); Sue Baker (papier mâché fish); Paul Reeves (beautifully turned wooden objects made from wood found in and around the New Forest or from dead or fallen trees) and Michael Turner (stainless steel sculpture). The range of items for sale is excellent and of an exceptionally high standard.

Sue Baker’s papier mâché fish looked striking hung on the white-washed walls of The Old School Gallery. Her inspiration for the fish comes from when she lived in Cornwall: ‘I’ve always enjoyed messing about with paints and drawing, and enjoy the point where craft and art overlap. I fell into the papier mâché interest over twenty years ago. Having tried a few experiments following ideas in a book. I decided I preferred to do my own thing. The fish theme developed from there. Living in Cornwall, where I was born (I moved to Dorset ten years ago), the fish were an obvious choice I suppose. I started making imaginative fish; but the demand for realistic fish grew, so I seem to make them exclusively now.’

Michael Turner's
Sculptor Michael Turner’s steel lion looking majestic in the entrance of St. Barbe Museum, Lymington. The lion is for sale. Price on application.

A stainless steel lion by Lymington based sculptor Michael Turner, which is positioned in the Museum’s entrance, proved to be a big hit with both adults and children on the Saturday I visited. If you have travelled through Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 in recent years, you may well have seen Michael’s lion on display there. The lion is for sale, price on application.

Michael describes his work thus: ‘I have been a sculptor for over fifteen years now. I enjoy using recycled stainless steel. In our throw away society, it’s great for me to be able to take discarded material and turn it into something beautiful, and every project takes on a new challenge. My inspiration mainly comes from nature in all its forms. I am especially fascinated by insects which I never tire of reproducing, experimenting constantly with different types of finishes on the basic stainless steel. I use polishing, paint and heat effects to produce a unique piece every time. My work is exhibited in selected galleries and recently featured in Harvey Nichols’ London and Edinburgh stores, as well as the Royal West of England Academy.’

  • The Arts & Crafts Exhibition continues at St. Barbe Museum, until 13th April, 2013. Michael Turners Lion at St. Barbe Museum

Posted in American Civil War, Decorative Arts, History, Literature, Review, Theatre History, TV Programme

BBC’s Shakespeare Unlocked Season

Illustration by Wal Paget, c. 1905, featuring a scene from As You Like It by William Shakespeare. Illustration taken from Shakespeare’s Heroines by Anna Jameson.

Last night I watched the first episode of a new series exploring Shakespeare’s plays.  The series is part of the Shakespeare Unlocked Season, the BBC’s contribution to the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival.  The new six-parter airs on BBC 4, Tuesdays at 9pm and if tonight’s episode is anything to go by it should be an interesting watch.  In the first episode, actress Joely Richardson examines Shakespeare’s female characters, roles for women and the act of cross-dressing in Elizabethan theatre.  The two plays featured in the first episode are Twelfth Night (Viola) and As You Like It (Rosalind). There are numerous contributions from leading contemporary scholars (Jonathan Bate and Germaine Greer), actors (Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren) and directors (Thea Sharrock).  In episode two (Tuesday 26th June, 9pm) actor Ethan Hawke goes in search of the real story behind Macbeth. Ethan was lucky enough to view the First Folio – The Complete Works of Shakespeare, as published in 1623. For more information on this series, CLICK HERE.

Scene from As You Like It. Illustration by Wal Paget featured in Shakespeare’s Heroines by Anna Jameson.

Other highlights from the Shakespeare Unlocked Season include Simon Schama’s Shakespeare, which begins Friday 22nd June, 9pm, BBC2 and The Hollow Crown series of new adaptations by the BBC of four of Shakespeare’s best-loved history plays. The cast list reads like a who’s who of British Theatre. The plays adapted are Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V. Directors for the adaptations are Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock. On the BBC website I also found a couple of very interesting articles, one on Soviet Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet: The Play Stalin Hated’ by David Sillito (23.4.12) and the other ‘Shakespearean Fools: Their Modern Equivalents’ by Denise Winterman (1.4.12).

My copy of Anna Jameson’s Shakespeare’s Heroines, c. 1905.

I have a wonderful book in my collection, Shakespeare’s Heroines:Characteristics of Women – Moral, Poetical and Historical by Anna Jameson with exquisite illustrations by Wal Paget. The book was published by Ernest Nister c. 1905 and is one of my favourite secondhand books, cloth bound with gilt edging and a pleasure to own. Author Anna Brownell Jameson (neé Anna Murphy – 1794-1860) was born in Dublin. She worked as a governess in several aristocratic households: 1810-14 Marquess of Winchester; 1819-21 Rowles family, Bradbourne Park, Kent; 1821-25 Lord and Lady Hatherton of Teddesley. She married Robert Sympson Jameson (1798–1854), a barrister, in 1825 but the marriage didn’t last and they formally separated in 1838.  They had no children.

Spine of Shakespeare’s Heroines book.

Jameson’s other publications include: Diary of an Ennuyeé (1826); The Loves of the Poets (1829); Memoirs of Celebrated Female Sovereigns (1831); Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad (1834); Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838); Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters (1845); Legends of the Monastic Orders (1850) and Legends of the Madonna (1852).  She is thought to be one of the first professional female art critics.  She was well-respected for her Shakespearean criticism and enjoyed many high-profile literary friendships.  One of the most famous being that of Elizabeth and Robert Browning.  When they eloped to Pisa in 1846, Jameson was persuaded by the couple to join them on account of Elizabeth’s failing health.  She did and the entire elopement was thus documented by Jameson in her letters to Lady Byron.

Title page of Shakespeare’s Heroines.

The illustrations are by Wal (Walter Stanley) Paget (1863-1935).  Wal’s two brothers were also well-known Victorian and Edwardian illustrators, H.M. (Henry Marriott) Paget (1856-1936) and Sidney Edward Paget (1860-1908).  Sidney produced all the illustrations that accompanied Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories published in The Strand Magazine. All three gentlemen were educated at Royal Academy Schools. Wal also served as a war artist, most notably as part of the 1884-1885 expedition to rescue General Gordon from Khartoum for the Illustrated London News.  A selection of books he has illustrated include: Through Three Campaigns by G. A. Henty; The Treasures of the Incas by G. A. Henty; At the Point of the Bayonet by G. A. Henty; Nobby, A Son of the Empire by John Comfort; King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard; Treasure Island (1899); Pilgrim’s Progress (1906) and Arabian Nights (1907). When the Sphere publication was founded in 1900, Wal was one of its staff artists.

Jameson dedicated her book to Fanny Kemble (1809-1893). Fanny came from acting royalty, the daughter of actor Charles Kemble and Marie Therese De Camp. She was the niece of Sarah Siddons and actor John Kemble.  Fanny played all of the important female roles available to her, including Juliet (Romeo and Juliet –1829), Portia (Merchant of Venice) and Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing). In 1834, she married American, Pierce Mease Butler, a rice, tobacco and cotton plantation owner from the Sea Islands of Georgia.  Fanny spent several months in 1838-9 living at her husband’s plantation and kept a journal documenting what she saw, particularly in relation to the treatment of hundreds of slaves who toiled there. Fanny’s book, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, was published in 1863.  A timely move, in the middle of The American Civil War (1861-65) and at a period in literature when abolitionist writing was at its height. Fanny divorced Pierce in 1849 and consequently lost custody of her two daughters, whom she did not see again until they reached the age of twenty-one.

Jameson divides Shakespeare’s characters into ‘Characters of Intellect’; ‘Characters of Passion and Imagination’; ‘Characters of the Affections’ and ‘Historical Characters.  Rosalind (As You Like It) features in ‘Characters of Intellect’ and Viola (Twelfth Night) features in ‘Characters of Passion and Imagination’.  Jameson describes Rosalind:

Illustration by Wal Paget of Rosalind.

‘…her sex’s softness and sensibility, united with equal wit and intellect, give her the superiority as a woman; but that as a dramatic character she is inferior in force.  The portrait is one of infinitely more delicacy and variety, but of less strength and depth. She is like a compound of essences, so volatile in their nature, and so exquisitely blended, that on any attempt to analyse them they seem to escape us.’ (p. 52)

‘There is a depth of delight, and a subtlety of words to express that delight, which is enchanting.  Yet when you call to mind particular speeches and passages, we find that they have a relative beauty and propriety, which renders it difficult to separate them from the context without injuring their effect.  She says some of the most charming things in the world, and some of the most humorous: but we apply them as phrases rather than as maxims, and remember them rather for their pointed felicity of expression and fanciful application than for their general truth and depth of meaning’ (p.55).

Jameson describes Viola:

Wal Paget’s illustration of the disguised Viola.

‘….how exquisitely is the character of Viola fitted to her part, carrying her through the ordeal with all the inward and spiritual grace of modesty!  What beautiful propriety in the distinction drawn between Rosalind and Viola! The wild sweetness, the frolic humour, which sports free and unblamed amid the shades of Ardennes would ill become Viola, whose playfulness is assumed as part of her disguise as a court page, and is guarded by the strictest delicacy  She has not, like Rosalind, a saucy enjoyment in her own incognito: her disguise does not sit so easily upon her; her heart does beat freely under it.’ (p. 107)

‘She plays her part well, but never forgets, nor allows us to forget, that she playing a part.  The feminine cowardice of Viola, which will not allow her even to effect a courage becoming her attire, her horror at the idea of drawing a sword, is very natural and characteristic, and produces a most humorous effect, even at the very moment it charms and interests us.’ (pp. 107-8)