Thursday, 17 May 2012

A Poor Sequester'd Stag

                        Another day spent with shelves - I've topped off the shelves over the Stage and varnished them, together with the front board on the shelves in the alcove. I've given them three coats and I've all but run out of varnish, so that's as much as I can do. I think they look OK.

I've also added, with grim inevitability, a rack of antlers to the chimney breast. They are three point Red deer antlers, which I got from a mountainside in Scotland about forty years ago. I found the body of the deer in a bog but the head (luckily for me, but not for the stag) was resting on a rock. The thing stank to high heaven but whilst the flesh had rotted, the antlers were more or less intact. With a bit of a stick I worked the head loose and scraped off the worst of the skin and remaining meat, then took it back to our holiday chalet (my parents were remarkably understanding when I regularly turned up with the body parts of assorted fauna), and placed it on a red ant's nest. Over the next couple of weeks the ants did their business, leaving a more or less clean skull, which I took home and treated with boiling water and bleach, before slicing the top off with a hacksaw. It's been on the wall in the dining room for about twenty years, so it was due a move. Here it is in its new home.

On the round table is a silver-plated, three sconce candelabra and a cast iron book stand. The book stand came from a charity shop in Blackburn, for £2.50. The candlestick came from a charity shop in Ilkley, for £6.99. On the book stand is a copy of Maurice Baring's commonplace book Have You Anything to Declare? (1936). Baring was an English man of letters, who spoke at least six European languages and who had served in the Intelligence Corps and Royal Air Force during WWI. In the book he collects fragments from prose and poems and discusses them in context. What are most impressive are his breadth of reading and his mastery of foreign tongues. 

Commonplace books were developed in the Renaissance, when scholars would copy out sections of texts which interested them and collate them by subject. They were primarily made for personal use but some were published and received wider readership. It has been argued that blogs are the modern equivalent of the commonplace book, but I like to think that people are still using pen and paper to note down things that interest them. I can't imagine watching a programme like QI without my notebook close at hand.

"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation."  Jonathan Swift, A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet.

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