Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Henry James in Scotland
So here I am in Scotland, in search of the tweeds that inspired Coco Chanel (don't want to give the game away, but she was a frequent visitor north of the border). Anyway, it turns out that Henry James was a guest at Tillypronie, the house where I am staying, and as an ardent fan of his, I feel tremendously excited about this. There's something beguiling in the unlikeliness of the coincidence; of James being on top of a mountain in Scotland, and me being here at all. Of course, his description of Tillypronie is far better than mine would ever be, as you'll see in the relevant extract from the letter he wrote to his sister on September 15th 1878:
"Behold me in Scotland and very well pleased to be here. It is a beautiful part of the country - the so-called Deeside - the mountains of Aberdeenshire - the region of Balmoral and Braemar. This supremely comfortable house - lying deep among the brown and purple moors - has the honor, I believe, of being the highest placed laird’s house in Scotland. I wish that you might contemplate the glorious view of sweeping hills and gleaming lochs that lies forever before the windows. I have been here for four or five days and I feel that I have done a very good thing in coming to Scotland. Once you get the hang of it, and apprehend the type, it is a most beautiful and admirable little country - fit to make up a trio with Italy and Greece.
But don’t envy me too much; for the British country-house has at moments, for a cosmopolitanized American, an insuperable flatness. On the other hand, to do it justice, there is no doubt of its being one of the ripest fruits of time - and here in Scotland, where you get the conveniences of Mayfair dove-tailed into the last romanticism of nature - of the highest results of civilization."
Unlike James, I have not come across any insuperable flatness -- indeed, the hills are so high that I find myself admiring the view on a regular basis (and no flatness inside the house, either, but a lot of very good chocolate cake and scones). If anyone is in the area, and wants to see the beautiful gardens, they are open for charity this Sunday afternoon. Apparently there will be homemade cake and teas, too.