UCLA awarded me a fellowship to visit the Turner Bequest at the Tate Britain (curated by history’s worst curator, John Ruskin) and the glorious John Murray Archive at the National Library of Scotland. I plan to post more about this luxurious academic adventure – but first to Keats’ house (ok it was closed) and Kenwood House in the Heath.
From a childhood spent reading Victorian novels, I had already concocted some notions about what I believe a “Heath” should look like. I think those notions mainly stem from associations I’ve made with the name “Heathcliff.” In any case, I found myself gamboling around the Hampstead Heath for a few days at the beginning of my trip–and probably to the annoyance of my host, I insisted upon using that phrase to the exclusion of any others that would do the same descriptive job.
I stayed in a flat (Mom, that is what they call apartments there) overlooking the Heath-thankful for the hospitality of a friend from my undergraduate years. She lives across the street from where George Orwell lived and worked for many years and down the road from Keats’ old house. More importantly, she lives around the corner from Benedict Cumberbatch. Unfortunately, despite my repeated truly necessary detours by his street, I failed to spot him.
My friend informed me, to my great delight, that one can simply apply to be the caretaker of these National Trust homes. All you have to do is live upstairs and open the doors a couple times a week for visitors… Can this be true? I could die happy in Keats’ house.
We also paid a visit to Lord Mansfield’s manor right in the Heath: Kenwood House. I kept breathing that air, that air too pure for the lungs of slaves. The house had a few choice Rembrandts and the library was fully furnished with fake books. Just as one can go on Ebay now and buy “old books” to decorate your shelves (see pics), the lower shelves of Mansfield’s library were lined with boxes that had book bindings on the side that faced outwards. I discovered this when I went to touch one of them and the alarm went off. “The alarm goes off when you touch the books,” the guard on duty then informed me. …