Walter Scott & the Shetland Islands

December 26, 2017 at 11:46 am (jane austen, places, travel) (, , , )


Over the holiday weekend I got an email from a friend who plans a future trip to the Shetland Islands! Oooohh…..

Islands have a lure for me – though I cannot say I have EVER visited any I’ve pointed to on a map. The Isles of Scilly remain merely read about. The Channel Islands, because they are on U.K. time, proved impossible to visit as a day trip from Paris, thanks to the ferry schedule. In Scotland, I did get to the Highlands, but never to any of the Islands.

In the back of my brain, however, I dug up the memory of once having ordered yarn (yes, I used to knit) from the tippy-top of Shetland – from Unst, if I recall correctly. I still have the sweater – a thin wool “jumper,” dark green, made to go with a Macdonald tartan skirt.

Oh, the memories! I’m looking at the Jamieson & Smith website. I remember when I used to look at books on historical knitting – and thought about building myself a JUMPER BOARD. If you’re a knitter, and don’t know what that is, click the link. The cost is 85 pounds (though not sure about the shipping…). GROAN: “currently unavailable.” (Ditto for the glove boards.)

IMAGINE: Mail order, in the days before the internet! I can’t be a 100% sure of the company or which island my goods came from, but I’m in the right neighborhood. I bet somewhere around the house is the original packing slip. I remember some fabric, from Scotland, and even Wales, too.

Those were GOOD days. I used to be so enthusiastic about sewing; and I actually designed my own knitwear. Not my own design, but one of my handiwork is this pair of socks:

stocking_clock

The photo was meant to show the “clock” that’s worked around the ankle, although this pattern is Austrian, and features a cable from ankle to knee.

So I’ve had an interest in Shetland patterns, and historical knits in general (I have a tidy little library of books on that subject). AND now I’ve a Highland Lady of my own – Margaret Douglas Maclean Clephane – whom I have been writing about. Margaret married Emma Smith’s (Emma Austen Leigh’s) cousin, Lord Compton. On the death of his father (May 1828), she became the 2nd Marchioness of Northampton.

But Margaret was a Highland Bluestocking.

Torloisk, the Isle of Mull home she shared with her mother and two sisters, is an area I’ve recently looked at on google maps. So it wasn’t hard to look up the likes of Staffa, which Lord Compton visited in 1813 – and I’m beginning to think the Clephane ladies showed him around this island known for its basalt columns.

And not far off from there (on a map): the Shetlands – and that is how I discovered the footprints of Sir Walter Scott!

Margaret Clephane knew Walter Scott (he was her godfather, and her guardian) – and due to her intended marriage to Lord Compton (in 1815) he dropped by the Smith residence at No. 6 Portland Place and chatted an hour with Emma and Fanny Smith! (Mamma was not at home…)

Compton_Margaret and Marianne_Harriet Cheney

Margaret & Marianne (her eldest daughter)

Walter Scott is behind the naming of JARLSHOF, a name he invented for his novel The Pirate (1822). At the southern tip of the Sheltland Islands, Jarlshof is an important archeological site.

Ian Mitchell has written about Scott’s adventures in the Shetlands; Scott visited these northern islands in 1814 – the year he published WAVERLEY, the novel Jane Austen was loath to like, though she “feared she must” like it. [aside: read David Groves, “Jane Austen in Scotland” in JASNA’s 1985 journal Persuasions.] Until that publication, Scott was known for his poetry – and Jane Austen, with three novels to her credit, teased her niece that Scott should have left the crowded field of novel-writing alone! Indeed, his works became fiercely beloved in his lifetime. Published anonymously, it’s rather surprising that Austen had already heard who the author of Waverley was; even Margaret Clephane was only guessing when she wrote to Scott about Waverley – teasing about how much she could have helped the “unknown” author with all things Scots Gaelic (a language Margaret spoke as well as English). She is the reason for a LOT of the Highland scholarship behind Scott’s historical novels. It’s all there, in her letters to him (his replies to her, of course, make up letters in the published Scott Correspondence).

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