It seems like an age hence that I was using up spare leave from the Day Job to swan around Georgian England. April, in fact, and the weather was balmy – one day we had rain, and when I was in London it was sunny.
The museum visits – Belzoni’s sketches of Seti I’s tomb, the drawings of Dodwell and Pomardi – are still fresh in my mind. I can picture the roads they walked on. I see their own depictions of their clothing. Prosperous men, making a slash in the world’s perception.
Of the houses from that time, I saw the Georgian House in Bristol, and was reminded of the tenement flats of Turin and Glasgow, large rooms with tiny fireplaces and high ceilings.
Ornate plasterwork on the cornices. Chinese or Japanese fabrics on screens, on lacquerwork furniture, on fine bone china.
Silk, embroidered, the work of tiny hands, a nation’s wealth in fabric sheer against lined paper walls and painted wooden balustrades.
Homes built on slavery and trade of other sorts.
Small piano-type instruments, keys of ivory not yet scarce; books the size of a card-table spread open at hand-painted birds of paradise from the Indies. Animal products from far-off lands where the people are different from us.
Wigs to be powdered, pearls to be worn by the maid before the lady of the house entertains.
The wealth of merchants and the asceticism of Methodists, the freshness of plantation sugar and the new industrial works roaring beside canals dug by Irishmen on government subsidy through newly-enclosed land.
Books, the rare stories treasured, the poetry mad-bad-and-dangerous-to-know.
The loss of the New World still stinging.
Since then, I’ve read a little of the period’s surviving literature – Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield – and boned up on history. I’ve developed a feel for the society on the cusp of a new age: leaving behind the excesses of the Georgian period and setting forth on the fecund part of Victoria’s reign. A transition from one form of the British Empire to another. A rise in mercantile power, in global reach, in ebullient confidence.
A formative part of the national psyche, in fact.
I’ve explored modern perceptions of the period too, between the pages of Queen Victoria’s Book Of Spells and Mysteries Of The Diogenes Club, and social history such as the Chartists, to bolster my earlier reading of Robert Louis Stevenson and The Coral Island and The Water Babies and a bundle of other books that all squidge together in the memory. I know I’ve missed out a lot. That will come, as it’s needed.
In doing so, I’ve built up a picture – a landscape not unlike those sketched by Dodwell and Pomardi. A schema, similar to that Belzoni made of the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs for touring Europe, raising funds for his next expedition.
I’ve created a background against which a story can take place.
This is the world of the young Louis Beauregard.
And he has just begun to stride across it, heading for his destiny.