Wild and Majestic exhibition

I went recently to an exhibition at the museum, called Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland, which was looking at 18th and 19th views of the Highlands in particular. It turned out not to be particularly what I expected, which was something more ‘romantic’ in a strict sense – scenic landscapes and ideas of the picturesque and how people reacted – it was more, really, about fashions, and a bit about the changing ways in which the highlands saw itself.

There were three sections, divided up more or less chronologically.

The first of the the sections was the earliest, and the one where I found most to interest me, dealing with a period from just after Culloden up to about 1800, where a highland society which is already changing begins to be deliberately dismantled in some ways and simply left behind in others, as opportunities more similar to those available elsewhere begin to open up.

Over this time, Highland societies begin to grow up in the cities, as those who have moved away, the elite in particular, realise what is being lost – encouraging Highland dress, collecting patterns of tartan, and standardising and encouraging the playing of bagpipes.

This was also the period of the Ossian controversy, with the stories and characters becoming hugely fashionable on the one hand, and the arguments over authenticity dragging out on the other.

I was especially interested in the relationships of Highlanders to the British army. Everyone Knows that the Gaels were encouraged into the army by being allowed to wear highland dress, and in order to keep them away out of the road, but you don’t generally hear how quickly army service becomes interesting in its own right, as the first soldiers return with money and tales of adventure, so that by about 1790 local companies are being enthusiastically raised.

The second section dealt with George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822, and looked at the way highland dress started to represent of Scotland as a whole, with lowlanders dressing in tartan outfits because it was fashionable, or exotic, while the highlanders mostly stayed away. The third section was mostly later again, looking at the Victorian interest on Scotland which followed Queen Victoria’s purchase of Balmoral, as well as the strictly ‘romantic’ reactions – Mendelssohn’s music and Turner’s paintings, and the Byron poem which gave the exhibition its name.

Collingwood Society round up

It was the Collingwood Society’s AGM this week – very poorly attended, which is a shame. There’s not much to report except that not much of the programme seems to be sorted out yet – the one certain thing is the March lecture, which will be by the conservator at Trincomalee, on the preservation and display of wooden ships. So that sounds interesting!

The quiz afterwards is obviously getting easier, because I see from last year’s AGM post that I got half marks then – I did a bit better this year, although more because Erebus and Terror turned up quite a bit than because I know any more about Collingwood!

We gathered at Tynemouth as usual on Trafalgar Day – and in all the other places, but I didn’t make it even to St Nicholas’s in Newcastle. I was a bit worried that Trafalgar Day would become an excuse for some kind of English jingoism – it was just about that time – but they wisely kept to praising the navy.

At the end of the following week the second Collingwood Society Pickle Night took place. I think it went off better than the first one – I definitely had more fun. I had my moment of glory giving a 15 second speech about Captain Duff, and managed not to attract the attention of the kitten of nine tails, and my table was complimented afterwards for making the loudest bangs!