31 January 2010

Lord Byron, and Sir Walter Scott: Newark–on–Trent, Nottinghamshire, England

Sometimes you can do things in far-off places – as I did a few months ago when searching around for literary landmarks in seven Southern states (see 2009 below) – and still miss things on your own doorstep. Like this plaque that remembers the first works of the young George Gordon (1788–1824), the sixth Lord Byron (who of course never grew old anyway), printed by S. and J. Ridge in the Market Place, Newark–on–Trent, Nottinghamshire, England, which records:

'Here were published Lord Byron's first poems "Fugitive Pieces" Nov. 1806 [and] "Hours of Idleness" July 1807'.

The printing press is on exhibit in Newark and Sherwood District Council’s Millgate Museum, Newark–on–Trent.

Also in the Market Place stood the imposing inn, the Saracens Head, which is now just retail outlets. Below the bust representing a saracen are the words:

'"Saracens Head" Hotel

'Licensed in the reign of Edward III. This is the 18th cent. building at which "Jeannie [sic] Deans" ("Heart of Midlothian" by [Sir Walter] Scott [1771–1832]) stayed on her way to London about 1733. An important posting inn during coaching days.'

Below is the relevant passage from The Heart of Midlothian (1818):

'At noon the hundred-armed Trent, and the blackened ruins of Newark Castle, demolished in the great civil war, lay before her. It may easily be supposed, that Jeanie had no curiosity to make antiquarian researches, but, entering the town, went straight to the inn to which she had been directed at Ferrybridge. While she procured some refreshment, she observed the girl who brought it to her, looked at her several times with fixed and peculiar interest, and at last, to her infinite surprise, inquired if her name was not Deans, and if she was not a Scotchwoman, going to London upon justice business. Jeanie, with all her simplicity of character, had some of the caution of her country, and, according to Scottish universal custom, she answered the question by another, requesting the girl would tell her why she asked these questions?

'The Maritornes of the Saracen's Head, Newark, replied, "Two women had passed that morning, who had made inquiries after one Jeanie Deans, travelling to London on such an errand, and could scarce be persuaded that she had not passed on."

'Much surprised and somewhat alarmed (for what is inexplicable is usually alarming), Jeanie questioned the wench about the particular appearance of these two women, but could only learn that the one was aged, and the other young; that the latter was the taller, and that the former spoke most, and seemed to maintain an authority over her companion, and that both spoke with the Scottish accent.

'This conveyed no information whatever, and with an indescribable presentiment of evil designed towards her, Jeanie adopted the resolution of taking post-horses for the next stage. In this, however, she could not be gratified; some accidental circumstances had occasioned what is called a run upon the road, and the landlord could not accommodate her with a guide and horses. After waiting some time, in hopes that a pair of horses that had gone southward would return in time for her use, she at length, feeling ashamed at her own pusillanimity, resolved to prosecute her journey in her usual manner.

'"It was all plain road," she was assured, "except a high mountain called Gunnerby Hill, about three miles from Grantham, which was her stage for the night.

'"I'm glad to hear there's a hill," said Jeanie, "for baith my sight and my very feet are weary o' sic tracts o' level ground – it looks a' the way between this and York as if a' the land had been trenched and levelled, whilk is very wearisome to my Scotch een. When I lost sight of a muckle blue hill they ca' Ingleboro', I thought I hadna a friend left in this strange land."

'"As for the matter of that, young woman," said mine host, "an you be so fond o' hill, I carena an thou couldst carry Gunnerby away with thee in thy lap, for it's a murder to post-horses. But here's to thy journey, and mayst thou win well through it, for thou is a bold and a canny lass."

'So saying, he took a powerful pull at a solemn tankard of home-brewed ale.

'"I hope there is nae bad company on the road, sir?" said Jeanie.

'"Why, when it's clean without them I'll thatch Groby pool wi' pancakes. But there arena sae mony now; and since they hae lost Jim the Rat, they hold together no better than the men of Marsham when they lost their common. Take a drop ere thou goest," he concluded, offering her the tankard; "thou wilt get naething at night save Grantham gruel, nine grots and a gallon of water."

'Jeanie courteously declined the tankard, and inquired what was her "lawing?"

'"Thy lawing! Heaven help thee, wench! what ca'st thou that?"

'"It is – I was wanting to ken what was to pay," replied Jeanie.

'"Pay? Lord help thee! – why nought, woman – we hae drawn no liquor but a gill o' beer, and the Saracen's Head can spare a mouthful o' meat to a stranger like o' thee, that cannot speak Christian language. So here's to thee once more. The same again, quoth Mark of Bellgrave," and he took another profound pull at the tankard.

'The travellers who have visited Newark more lately, will not fail to remember the remarkably civil and gentlemanly manners of the person who now keeps the principal inn there, and may find some amusement in contrasting them with those of his more rough predecessor. But we believe it will be found that the polish has worn off none of the real worth of the metal.'

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