Friday, January 15, 2010

Atlases, amputations and anchoresses

I was a little disappointed with the DIB's entry, by Rebecca Minch on the artist W. H. Bartlett (which is how he signed his work - the DIB gives him as William Bartlett, no middle name). Bartlett did landscape scenes in Europe, the Middle East and North America, and his work was widely published in books of engravings. His The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland (1840 - the DIB incorrectly gives 1844) captured Ireland - particularly rural Ireland in 120 or so engravings and was a bestseller in its day. You can pick up a good quality copy for around $1,000, but relatively few of them are still about, since dealers realized years ago that they could make much more money from breaking down the books and selling the individual prints, often hand-colored. The DIB sniffs that Bartlett was not as good an artist as his contemporary J.M.W. Turner - who on earth was? - and unduly narrowly puts his "strength" in "the accuracy of man-made structures". You can see all of his Irish pictures here, and I think they show that his range was greater than that of the mere "topographical draughtsman" that the DIB states Bartlett to be. I'm very fond of this one, of Killiney Bay (in south Dublin) looking out towards Bray Head (in Wicklow) before the Vico Road and the railway were punched through along the coast. Bartlett prints are part of my Irish mental clutter, as I think they are for many people: the entry could have better explained his success and popularity.

Sadly, nothing appears to have survived of the work of another Irish artist. Francis Stewart Beatty was producing photographs within a week of the publiction in English of Louis Daguerre's manual in 1839. Beatty set up his own studio in Belfast and subsequently moved to Dublin. While he seems to have had considerable scientific ingenuity - he developed improvements to the Daguerre system and obtained a patent for a chromolithography process - he was not successful in business and died a pauper in the North Dublin workhouse and was interred in an unmarked grave.

As anyone knows who's read Patrick O'Brien 's Aubrey and Maturin novels, the skill of a naval surgeon during the Napoleonic wars was measured not so much by his diagnostic abilities than the speed with which he could amputate a limb or trepan a skull. William Beatty, from Derry, was one of the best. During the Battle of Trafalgar, where he served on the flagship, HMS Victory, he excelled at his job, treating more than 100 wounded and, together with his assistants, performing 11 amputations.  The most celebrated of the wounded, of course, was Horatio, Lord Nelson, who saw his fleet sink or disable 22 French and Spanish ships without the loss of one on his side. Nelson was fatally wounded by a sniper late in the battle, and Beatty was at his side as he died. In his Authentic Narrative of the Death of Lord Nelson with the Circumstances Preceding, Attending, and Subsequent to, that Event; the Professional Report of His Lordship's Wound, and Several Interesting Anecdotes, Beatty reported, maybe not completely authentically, that Nelson's last words were "Thank God I have done my duty." As the words he spoke immediately prior to this helpfully life-summarizing statement were reported by others to have been "'fan, fan ... rub, rub ... drink, drink", Beatty's account seems improbable. But it did him no end of good; subsequently he rose high in the naval and scientific establishment, became personal physician to the future King William IV and received a knighthood. He served on the committee to erect Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square in London. (He had nothing to do with its Dublin counterpart, Nelson's Pillar, blown up in 1966.)

Daniel Augustus Beaufort was a parson in various parts of Ireland (although he spent five years laying low in Wales, hiding from creditors). What he was good at , however, was architecture and map-making. His A New Map of Ireland Civil and Ecclesiastical (1792), from which this map is taken, was full of unprecedented detail, painstakingly accumulated from Beaufort's travels around the country. Like Francis Stewart Beatty, he seems to have been wretched in his money deailings: the DIB says that "he barely avoided dying in prison for debt." His son, Francis Beaufort, excelled as a chartmaker, hydrographer and meteorologist: he developed the Beaufort scale of wind speed, which is named after him.

I've previously indicated my scant interest in matters ecclesiastical. I have an especially hard time with anchorites and anchoresses. St. Becga was a Leinsterwoman, who is alleged (but not by the DIB) to have declined an unwelcome marriage proposal and fled to England, where she is said to have founded a community in Northumbria.It's always seemed unlikely to be that God would want any of his people to brick themselves up in a small cell as proof of their piety and faith, but it was certainly popular for a while. The place of Becga's foundation is now called St. Bees, which reminds me of an entirely irrelevant anti-limerick, attributed to W.S. Gilbert: "There was an old man of St. Bees,/Who was stung in the arm by a wasp; /When they asked, "Does it hurt?" /He replied, "No, it doesn't, /But I thought all the while 't was a Hornet."

I'm nowhere near my self-imposed ration of pages for today. But the next pages of the DIB comprehend the Becketts and the Behans ... and deserve a new page on a new day.

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