I had a very old and slim volume, but I wanted to re-read ‘Montrose’ by C V Wedgwood after visiting the Jacobites exhibition at the National Museum in Edinburgh recently. Wedgwood was regarded as a good popular historian in the sixties. She covers the story alright but reads into it lots of moods, how the characters felt etc etc which make it seem very light indeed. The subtitle is ‘A Man Unmatched In Britain’s History’ so you can see which sympathetic angle she is coming from! And the prose is rather flowery…..here’s an example. “Whilst Montrose lay in the best bed, tired and thankful, Assynt and his wife (perhaps chiefly his wife) bethought them of the blood money for his capture. Twenty five thousand pounds. It was a great deal of money for a poor little chieftain at the back of beyond………..etc ” I shall have to look out a more serious biography.
Having read Philip Marsden’s book on the history of Falmouth, and recommended it to F. who also enjoyed it very much, I was really looking forward to this. It’s subtitle is ‘The Spirit of Place’ and that gives a fair idea of what it is about. Philip feels very strongly that Cornwall is a special place with the past having as much relevance as the present if I can put it that way. And he travels West rather like the Georgian and Victorian antiquarians interested in everything and with a keen eye for anything historical or unusual.
He also likes out-of-the-way spots. He happens upon Tolverne Barton, “one of those forgotten, time-rinsed corners with which Cornwall rewards path-strayers and the persistently nosy”, and after being brought up short for straying onto private land he then sits and has a great conversation with the owner over a cup of tea! He pauses to contemplate Ruan Langhorne, “now a backwater, verdant and spongy in its silted-up creek”, a lovely place we know ourselves.
I must admit I was a bit wary for the first few chapters as he started to go overboard about the prehistoric sites he loves visiting and reading into them rather too much, and I dreaded him getting mystical. However things soon evened out and I started to thoroughly enjoy his curiosity and his historical skills. In the end it made me wonder at the perseverance of all the people in whose footsteps he was treading and admire his own approach tremendously. Inspiring.
Looking in my ‘library’ for something to read I hit upon ‘A Very Peculiar Practice’ and remembered it well from the eighties television series. In fact so well that I could picture every one of the characters with great clarity (bit like say All Creatures Great and Small, great book, great television, never forgotten). Having worked in a ‘new’ university myself (the setting for the erstwhile practice) I found it both hilarious and so true to life that one cringes to think that it should have been like this. I really really enjoyed it. And it was a surprise to find that it was written and dramatised by Andrew Davies who used to be one of F.’s customers in our bookshops. A brilliant man, the book is very clever indeed and great fun. I am off to see if I can find the TV series on You Tube….