Transcribing GW at the Linnean

Feb 24:  Spent the morning finishing off my transcription of Gilbert White’s sermon which will soon be appearing in these pages.  By a lucky coincidence Dr June Chatfield, GW specialist and ex-curator of the museum at Selborne was also there and we had a long chat about him.

He comes across as a very attractive character described by one of his parishoners as “the Poor Man’s True Friend”.  His account books are full of gifts made from his garden.  He was not rich though he had a private income from a small farm left to him by his mother and an annual stipend of £60 from an Oxford fellowship and was very prudent with his finances.  He refused to be an absentee vicar and take up a college living and took his duties very seriously.  He sounds like he may have been a depressive but was extremely gregarious and fond of parties.  He never married and we wondered about this.  We were also curious as to what his parishoners, mostly farm-labourers, would have made of his sermons.  Whilst I was transcribing the sermon I did wonder what was going through his own mind; it is so impassioned and full of pent-up feeling.

He was very fond of melons.

The more I read about the Georgians the more I like them.  Emotional without being sentimental and tough but prone to floods of tears.  As someone who turns on the waterworks at the drop of a hat I can only approve.  They were not puritanical.

After the Linnean I decided to go the sculpture exhibition at the RA, just across the courtyard.  I felt very mulish as usual (don’t really enjoy trailing round blockbuster exhibitions to be honest and I am always determined to HATE them beforehand).  However I was pleasantly surprised.  There does not seem to be a theory behind the curating, they just seemed to be saying “Look at This”.  Fine by me.  There was some amazing stuff – tomb carvings from Northern Iraq c. 800 BC and Chinese porcelain that just made you want to faint with happiness.  A stunning plaster relief by Charles Seargent Jagger who I was shocked to discover died at the early age of 49.  A wonderful, dignified Egyptian baboon dressed in a ceremonial ruff just daring you to find him amusing and whoever positioned the Carl Andre bricks in conjuction with Lutyens’ maquette for the Cenotaph was simply inspired.  One of my favourite things was the room entirely filled with a reconstruction of a Victor Passmore/Richard Hamilton installation, so enjoyable.  A photo by Rose Finn-Kelcey also really grabbed me and a great lump of bronze by Barbara Hepworth where, when you looked the surface just made you think of rose petals, fragility and transience.  Truly magical.  Some inspiring writing by Jacob Epstein in a book by him propped open for you to read about his working process.

On my way to the bus I stopped off to look at books and managed to haggle £5 off “Saturn: an Essay on Goya” by Andre Malraux so was pleased as punch.  Man behind the desk in Thomas Heneage, Art Books, Duke Street St James you are a true gent.  Don’t know anything about Malraux but apparently he was very into Melancholia which suits my present mood and apparently Goya did not become Goya until he had been painting for 40 years.  So I have a 22 years breather before I need consider myself a failure.  Phew.

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