Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Having friends to stay is the perfect reason for taking time out and visiting places I've never been to before.

One day last week we went to Dalemain near Ullswater.  An afternoon was not long enough to enjoy the house and gardens.  I was particularly delighted to see Lady Anne Clifford's day book on display. Centuries after her birth in 1590 Lady Anne is still regarded in Cumbria as something of a local heroine, even a proto-feminist.  It took decades for her to gain her inheritance and when she did she embarked on a busy schedule of building and repairs to her own property and to various churches.  She was one of those redoubtable independent-minded noblewomen born in Queen Elizabeth I's reign.

Her day book was open and showed the entries for the last days of her life, when she was clearly house-bound but considered it important to record the hours (or get her secretary to do it for her when she was too frail).  You can buy the diaries of Lady Anne in paperback but to me there is something very moving about seeing not just the words but the original manuscript.

I have the same feeling when I see Dorothy Wordsworth's journal in the Dove Cottage Museum - open at the day of her brother William's wedding to Mary Hutchinson.  Dorothy's emotional turmoil is revealed by the scored out lines describing wearing her future sister-in-law's wedding ring on her finger all through the previous night.

In his poem "On Visiting Keats House" David Scott describes how Keats's letter to Fanny takes him by surprise - "the brown ink of the poet's handwriting:/ neat, round and vertical", the "postscript full of dashes/ and torment" and the recollection of the ring which Keats sent to Fanny "which she hid under her glove".

The power of original ink and paper.  It's as if the past bursts into the present and the centuries fall away.

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