Thursday, March 15, 2012

For Love of Roger de Trumpington

A day in Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire
Snapshot from Lawrence Stone's Pelican History of Art on English Medieval Sculpture, 1955, p. 137, fig. 1(b).  The brass of Sir Roger de Trumpington (d. AD 1289) in the church of SS Mary and Michael in Trumpington village, Cambs




 A very old friend of mine, since 1952 (though born only a couple of years before me), has written to me remarking on my omitting to write blog posts on things that at the time, to judge from letters that he has (to my astonishment) saved all these years, I had strong feelings about and enjoyed.

First, it may be wrong, but I was fairly young then, one does tend to write the letters that one feels will please a friend. . . Now, what have I done that will make a good letter?  Then, one tries to write it in a nice style.  When letters are sent back to the writer after nearly half a century, the nice style sometimes does show a bit of improvement, in depending more on nouns and verbs than modifiers.  More often, as also in my maiden article, the fine phrasing that I took pride in makes me squirm.
In the blog, when I wanted to record something that I still felt keenly, I found that I fell into what I recently learned to call Potterism of the fictional kind.  I’m not a good enough writer. 
Besides, apart from the limits of my writing, I resolved never to consider what recently was called “the inner child”.  Icky-poo.  Also, I must confess, like almost anyone else, I am still ashamed of my bad taste as well as selfishness whenever sexual relations were involved.  Sex is no shame, but as such it is private rather than personal.  Now, having lived more than three quarters of a century, I simply must conclude that my talents lay elsewhere, in friendship, in scholarship, in attentiveness to all sorts of things, but not in glamour or fascination.
I greatly enjoyed playing the Sather Tower bells (not yet a carillon but a ring of twelve English bells, fitted with pulleys and levers, so that tunes could be played).  Every time a Berkeley professor appears on television as an expert you see the Campanile in the background, but, when  a man leaped to his death from the observation platform and what had been open was enclosed in heavy glass, the bells sounded different, even before someone endowed the tower with a carillon (which had to be played by a real musician), and one could no longer feel and smell the atmosphere of San Francisco fog from the Bay.  Besides, a man had died.  So did my pitiable fantasy of possessing an instrument huge and visible from San Francisco but simple enough for an untrained amateur to play.
******
As I mulled over the questions of the indescribable and of the imperfectly remembered, into my mind trained to be nearly eidetic came the image of Roger de Trumpington which I’d met in Lawrence Stone’s Sculpture in Britain: The Middle Ages, Pelican History of Art, 1955, in the fine rubbing for which he thanks Donald Bell-Scott.  Making a rubbing of my own of Roger and sending it home successfully was one of the most joyous things I ever did, and it was part of an eventful day.  With a friend who has a car and knows how to get around England, one can do Sir Roger and see Earls Barton and visit Castle Ashby (for which Martin Robertson was just finishing a fascicle of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum and after which Beazley had named a red-figure vase-painter), and, with luck, drop by Peterborough before it was dark.  I’m almost sure we did get to Peterborough that day, and I know that we did the rest.
By deduction I think that this must have been in the summer of 1970, when the Greek vases were no longer at Castle Ashby (if I hadn’t been nearly a decade in Oregon, where no one knew of Castle Ashby or its painter, I’d have known that).**
By deduction it will have been Louise, who with her first husband, a physicist, and two children will have been in Cambridge.  I think I actually stayed with them; none of my family were still in England.  Now, I have the most vivid memory of them and their children, but last night I was forced to admit that I do not remember how it all fit together.  I actually remember threading all the roundabouts of the middle of southern England, the look of fields and hedgerows, the towns (Castle Ashby being a mere village, apart from the house itself), how large a life-size brass is and how beautiful,  overcoming the objection that we had not made an appointment to do a rubbing.  Yet all went well.  Had the Greek vases still been at Castle Ashby, and had I been able to get to see them, we’d have seen less.  Quite by accident, too, I learned that large country houses might be called abbeys and castles, with sometimes only the slightest pretense of continuity with actual religious or defensive predecessors; moats could be parts of landscape architecture.
At that time, though I had had a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead”, first in paperback, but since the ‘60s in hardback (both thanks to my librarian friend), the fountain and the folly were much clearer to me than the house.  Yes, something less than the chateaux of the Loire, but what?  Granada TV had yet to offer Americans Vanbrugh’s Castle Howard, much less with Geoffrey Burgon’s haunting score.  Last night it occurred to me that a house like Castle Ashby might the nearer the right size (and not in Yorkshire).  They advertise for Weddings now.  So do most of the others, including Highclere Castle, which, need I add, is not by Vanbrugh; I thought it looked like the period of the Houses of Parliament, and that is about right, since, if you dig enough on the web page, a unified design dates from 1838.  Castle Ashby about 40+ years ago still had some very nice paintings and things, which I hope that it has kept.
Anyway, Castle Ashby was a pure surprise, but I had to solve the enigma of Earls Barton: why it is never illustrated except for its Saxon tower.  Well, today I got around to learning that Pevsner said that it was not meant to have a nave.  The nave is maybe Decorated, but some of the rest is modern.  What I saw there, not mentioned in the current sources, is a sanctuary screen that looked to me like misunderstood Art Nouveau.  This sanctuary corresponds nicely to Evelyn Waugh’s send-up (a send-up is something that Waugh could never, and seldom tried to, resist) of the Brideshead chapel, not in the least like Castle Howard's.  Waugh’s intolerance of novelty far exceeded Prince Charles’s.
So one keeps learning.  Little bits fall into place.  It was quite a day, and Louise (and it must have been her; who else but Louise or Evie would know what kind of paper and grease crayon to buy and where to buy it?) and Louise was one of my most unselfish friends.  I don’t recall that Evie was in England at the same time as I was.
As for Peterborough Cathedral: it is not Ely, but if anything under-advertised.
But it all hung on realizing that Trumpington was now merely a suburb of Cambridge.


Reference:  From Google Books, you can download free, in your choice of formats, Herbert Walter Macklin, The Brasses of England, Methuen, 1907, still very useful, though with fewer illustrations than we'd expect today.  Roger is not shown, being already richly published, but wonderfully described on p. 18 (the .pdf page number, of course, being different).  If you're interested in Sir Roger's armor, Macklin is wonderful, and, as he says, as far as can be ascertained, he not only is the second earliest but the only crusader, who actually was commemorated by a monumental brass.


** Not for the first time, and actually on principle, I forced myself to write what I thought I could remember and spend the next day or so checking up, so far as local library sources permit.
First, Castle Ashby still belongs to the present Marquis of Northampton (you can look him up on line in the peerage), though the vases were sold at Christie's, London, in 1980 and, as I said, were not available at the house when I tried to see them.  Second, Ashby really is old, and the building of a Castle Ashby is old, though older than the present building's style; you can find "Ashby" in an historical atlas for the 13th century.  I was right, I think, that it may be more like the kind of house Waugh had in mind, being old, for one thing (but I like Vanbrugh, nonetheless).  Third, I was dead wrong in saying that there is a 'Castle Ashby Painter'.  I know how I got the false notion, and, as I said, I deliberately forebore going to Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters, 1962, last night.  H.R.W.Smith, with whom I studied red-figure vases, had us read all of Beazley's early articles; they really are seminal.  Though I don't have them here, now, I have Donna Kurtz's The Berlin Painter, Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology, Clarendon Press, 1983, which publishes the Beazley drawings preserved in the Beazley Archive.  Northampton had a stamnos (he had two, but the other one is not in such good condition), ARV2, 207, no. 141, "Early", of which Kurtz illustrates his drawings 52-54.  He also had a plate by Epiktetos ARV2, p. 77, no. 92, and a cup of his.   Just to mention two, these are two of Beazley's favorite artists, and he had had generous access to Castle Ashby.  It is evident that verbally 'Castle Ashby' caught my fancy then, in the mid-1950s!