Item 2 - Letter from C. S. Mactaggart to R. B. McKerrow

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Letter from C. S. Mactaggart to R. B. McKerrow


  • 1 Sept. (1895?) (Creation)

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A promontory near Norfolk Cottage (near Tintagel).—Describes her holiday activities at Tintagel.



Norfolk Cottage {1}
September 1st

At least not Norfolk Cottage but on a promontory of rock overlooking what a friend of ours with an alliterative turn used to call the wild weary windy wet ocean.

My dear Ronald,

From the bottom of my heart do I sympathise with you cooped up in the streets of London. This is the most superlatively glorious day of all the glorious days we have had. The sky is cloudless blue except towards the west where some foolish little white cloudlets are collecting to wait the setting sun. We thought it too warm to carry tea things out but I have come to write letters I could not stay in. Dora {2} was glad to see me go; she, I believe wants to weep over Jack on the sofa without an indiscrete onlooker to ask if she has a cold in her head. By the way I dont know whether she is guilty of weeping over books, she used to hold me in abhorrence when she was very tiny and I used to laugh over books. I remember her writing to tell me once that she had laughed over a book, she was very proud of it in those days looked upon it I think as a sort of getting up[s]ides with me in age. Wouldn’t she be riled if she knew I was writing all this rubbish.

Do you know the ocean is quite trippery today. There is the loveliest three masted thing just in front, under billows of snowy canvas and two commonplace steam-boats coming puffing along in her wake, these and many more. I haven’t been in the sea since I nearly took up my abode in her altogether but we must begin again tomorrow. I frightened Dora nearly out of her wits poor little soul. I had no idea there was any current in that bay and when I looked around and found myself already round the little promontory and fast drifting past the next absolutely unable to regain my original place I lost my head I think, otherwise I should not have called out for what good could anybody do me. In the end I turned on my back and ‘warstled through’ {3} but I landed at the Bossinny {4} side of the two mouthed cave, and I dont know how I managed to get breath enough having already wasted so much to stagger through the cave and relieve my poor little sister’s agony of mind. I felt the bones of my chest aching on my spine so flattened out did I feel. I was all right again however in a day or so, we only missed one day’s tea out then having come to the end of our spirit we walked over to Bosca[s]tle for another fill of the can we went there and back and did our commission in two hours and a half and besides that I blistered both my heels and had to come in finally with my shoes converted into sandles the upper heel covering turned under the sole of my foot. I am truly not proud of myself just now but I think we walked well that day. We are finding sad to say a good deal of time for writing reading sewing &c. Tintagel is lovely and enjoyable still but its halcyon days are over. If you will be good enough to lend us the ‘Ring and the Book’ {5} or some of it, we shall be muchly grateful. I like your Joan of Arc very much and am sorry to see that I have come out without it. I meant to read it still another time and analyse my sensations for your benefit. I am not sure whether if I had not known you it would have moved me as much as in one or two places it undoubtedly did. I like your avoidance of the usual trappings of poetry methinks for I think and that sort of thing. Go on and do great things and dont be hypercritical and call it lazy. If the weather keeps like this your father will have a glorious voyage. Do you think it is possible that there could be a regatta on Sunday somewhere? It positively looks like it, such lots of pretty boats with crowds and crowds of canvas. I must go in to tea. Dora will be swearing and small blame to her. We return to London on the 16th. Cant have rooms before at Knaresbro House Collingham Place. Remember us both to your Aunt please we shall certainly come to see her very soon if not sooner. And with very kind regards from us both

I am most sincerely yours
Christian S. Mactaggart

P.S. I forgot to say that the Leiths are charmed with Chagford {6}; air, scenery weather, quarters, everything perfection. Also I forgot to ask you to order for me some good evening paper. I dont myself know t’other from which nor even which name but I put myself in your hands. This idyllic ignorance is begining to become too much of a good thing and we can run to 1s per diem for sure.


The reference to McKerrow’s poem ‘Joan of Arc’ suggests that this letter was written in 1895. There are a few irregular spellings, e.g. ‘indiscrete’, ‘sandles’, ‘begining’, ‘cant’ (for ‘can’t’). Two casual omissions have been supplied in square brackets.

{1} A cottage on the coast, not far from Tintagel. McKerrow and W. W. Greg spent a vacation ‘reading at Tintagel’ about this time. See Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. xxvi (1940), p. 491.

{2} Christian Mactaggart’s sister.

{3} See OED, ‘warsle’, v. 2.

{4} The usual spelling is now Bossiney.

{5} Browning's long poem, first published in four volumes in 1868 and 1869.

{6} A town in Devon, on the edge of Dartmoor.

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