Friday, October 18, 2013

Newport, Rhode Island

Several years ago—at around the time I began work on this blog—I went with a group of colleagues to visit Osborne, Queen Victoria’s residence near Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It is a strange but compelling place, and, midway through our visit, I found myself in the Queen’s shrine of a bedroom gazing out the window down across the terraces towards the Solent. In that moment, quite by chance, the huge Cunard liner Queen Mary 2 swung into view and with much stateliness sailed straight past, moving from left to right. It seemed as if this display of maritime splendor had been exactly timed so as to impress upon the visitor the former but fullest scale of British imperium. The night before last I was in Newport, Rhode Island, giving a lecture about George Stubbs to the local branch of the English Speaking Union, among the most active and certainly the most hospitable in the United States. The venue was a restaurant at the end of one of the innumerable piers that jut into Newport Harbor. My audience had their back to the picture windows that gave onto water, and, as I started to speak in the gathering dusk that selfsame Queen Mary 2 steamed sedately past, this time from right to left, heading out into the North Atlantic—just like that! These are the only two occasions on which I have ever set eyes upon her, and they will not easily be forgotten. I am not quite sure why it has taken me so long to resume my various bloggy ruminations here, nor whether the Queen Mary 2 has had a hand in it. I was obliged to leave off owing to the immense pressure of work throughout the spring season of Edwardian Opulence, after which I felt an extended period lying fallow was probably wise. One can talk too much. Now, however, I find myself ready to resume—always writing in those quite hours before dawn which so enchant and delight me, just now enhanced by the freshness, gold and russet of the New England fall.

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