30th June

Sir Walter's Notes on Art and an Elephant

after Sir Walter Scott’s Journal

Two visits today, despite the rheumatism. First Francis Grant’s gallery. Grant’s work well done, in my consideration, but do I know what I am looking at, or looking for, in a painting? Raeburn’s portraits: very lifelike. His Highland chiefs do all but walk out of the canvas. Grant’s productions not in that league, but still pleasing to my inexperienced eye. No false modesty there – I am ignorant of what constitutes art, but I think I can detect artifice. These seem genuine or at least good paintings. Would happily have one or two on my walls but my walls must go naked. And he has priced them too high for this market of grudging tastes and pockets to match. One must be a bold player in the game of picture buying and selling, bold as a horse-jockey – or a bookseller! A gentleman cannot make much of any of these without laying aside some of his gentility.

Next, the show of wild beasts: both more and less satisfying. The creatures kept much cleaner than in former days, I think. The strong smell used to make the nose run, the eyes sting and delivered a headache for the day. They are tamer than I recall, or less angry at their lot. Cause: more knowledge of their habits? Kinder treatment? Or ennui and despair on the part of the beasts? I fear the latter. A lion and tigress went through their exercise like poodles, jumping, standing, and lying down at the word of command. This is rather degrading. (Yet you too leap through the hoops, sir, now that they have you trained and obedient, a slave to the offer of a morsel.)

The elephant: a noble fellow. I treated him to a shilling’s worth of cakes. I wish I could have enlarged the space in which so much bulk and wisdom is confined. He kept swinging his head from side to side, as if he marvelled why all the fools that gaped at him were at liberty and he cooped up in the cage. We watched each other for a long time. I doubt he found me as interesting as I found him. I shall not go there again.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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