Oddly Gothick

A history post rather than an art one for a change. St Paul’s and St George’s Church in Edinburgh (pandgchurch.org.uk) used to be two churches — you can probably guess what they were called. After the small congregation of St George’s moved across the road into the big building of St Paul’s, their little chapel was later demolished. I’ve finally worked out where on York Place it used to be: its here, where the casino is! But the Rectory at no.7, which adjoined it on the left and was built at the same time, survived. It looks like a classical georgian house until you look closely. There are ‘Gothick’ crenellations on the roof, ‘Gothick’ clustered columns round the door, and ‘Gothic’ cruciform arrowslits (!) on either side of the second floor windows. As an attempt at making a building look Mediaeval it is not, to our eyes, a great success, with its round arches and its regular rectangular windows. But in 1794 there wasn’t anything better around.

A demolished architectural mishmash of a chapel might seem a bit of a footnote in cultural history, except that the Rector for whom it was built, Alexander Cleeve, was the tutor of Walter Scott, who had just begun to practice as an advocate when St George’s was built. Whereas Edinburgh Gothic went off in a scholarly direction, Scott ran away with the fantasy to weave wonderful works of fiction, and a house, Abbotsford:

(I hope Travel Destination Pictures will forgive my borrowing their picture if I tell you that they have this and lots of other lovely photos here.)

In Abbotsford, Scott invented the style known as ‘Scottish Baronial’ which was used to design pretty much every tenement in Edinburgh and Glasgow for the whole of the nineteenth century. Alexander Cleeve, sticking crenellations, clusterings and cruciforms onto his Georgian House, might have a lot to answer for!

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Ruskin’s Moss

Walking between amongst the stone walls and old trees of the Lake District this weekend I was trying to recall John Ruskin’s description of moss. I think it’s the most beautiful piece of descriptive writing I’ve ever found, so here it is, so I have it to hand when I have time to illustrate it, or learn it by heart: 

Mosses– Meek creatures! the first mercy of the earth, veiling with hushed softness its dintless rocks; creatures full of pity, covering with strange and tender honour the scarred disgrace of ruin, laying quiet finger on the trembling stones to teach them rest. No words, that I know of, will say what these mosses are. None are delicate enough, none perfect enough, none rich enough. How is one to tell of the rounded bosses of furred and beaming green, — the starred divisions of rubied bloom, fine-filmed, as if the rock spirits could spin porphyry as we do glass, — the traceries of intricate silver, and fringes of amber, lustrous, arborescent, burnished through every fibre into fitful brightness and glossy traverses of silken change, yet all subdued and pensive, and framed for simplest, sweetest offices of grace? They will not be gathered, like the flowers, for chaplet, or love-token; but of these the wild bird will make its nest, and the wearied child his pillow.

And as the earth’s first mercy, so they are its last gift to us: when all other service is vain, from plant and tree, the soft mosses and gray lichen take up their watch by the headstone. The woods, the blossoms, the gift-bearing grasses, have done their parts for a time; but these do service for ever. Trees for the builder’s yard, flowers for the bride’s chamber, corn for the granary, moss for the grave.  — John Ruskin, Frondes Agrestes 59.