From These Windows: Online Collection – a selection of writing and art inspired by the collections of the V&A Museums.
23 April 1803
The birds here are exquisite. I know you want to hear that I have met a good woman and that I’ve changed my ways and have a steady job and no longer write inflammatory poetry about my so-called superiors* but there is so much else to say.
I am kept awake by a thing called a whip-poor-will. I don’t suppose I need to describe to you what sound it makes. These people have such an endearingly straightforward way with words. They call the pavement a side-walk! It is terribly refreshing to be amongst a people more concerned with what things do rather than their makeup. Where was I now? Ah yes, those whip-poor-wills are as reclusive as they are vociferous—I have been staked out in the woods behind the house these past nights trying to nab one, and when I do I intend to paint it, regardless of how drab and nondescript it might turn out to be.
I have befriended a delightful fellow who knows much about the feathered inhabitants of this land and much more besides. He believes I have quite the talent and is encouraging me to paint more of the wildlife that has so captivated me. There are no men like Mr Bartram in Scotland, of that I am sure. This land seems to breed men free in spirit and strong in mind and I am thriving here amongst them—in spirit that is, my finances continue to be strained I must admit. Painting materials are hard to come by here and thus inordinately expensive.
But you will be pleased to know that I am teaching to earn my keep, a step up from that infernal loom at least, and the boys are well behaved for the most part. You won’t be surprised if I admit that the mischievous ones are my favourites. And there are mercifully long stretches where the boys go out to work the fields and I am free to travel. Mr Bartram has invited me to accompany him on his next trip! We will go south to an area where he has some acquaintances amongst the native people, whom he regards with deep respect for their knowledge of this land, a scarce attitude amongst us pale folk here as well you know. He is on the trail of a thing called an alligator, which I do not dare describe to you lest you call me home at once. He jokes that it will turn out fine as he will have his eyes to the ground and save us from the predators that might be lurking there, while I will scarcely see my feet while craning to glimpse the stunning birds that thrive nearer to the equator and thus will be well positioned to alert us to any talons that may threaten us from above.
Tell me, how is Paisley? How is Mr Aird and his wife? I imagine by now there are one or two screeching bairns in the cottage. I hope for their sake he is sticking to the law, though for the plight of the workers I have other thoughts about his calling, as you know. Please send him my warmest regards if he will accept them after all that trouble on my departure. And you, my long-suffering mother, how are you? I hope you are keeping up the visits to Dr Robertson and heeding his advice and that you do not worry overly on my behalf. I know that deep down underneath the concerns over my prospects you simply want me to be happy and mother, I am.
Your loving and wayward son,
*you know as well as I that nothing in that verse was inaccurate and that the brute deserved every word and that it is the working man’s responsibility to make a stand when his fellow workers are in peril. My heart sings to know I am several thousand miles away from him but I pity the souls who still cower under him. There is no justice in this world so long as capitalist tyrants such has him hold sway.
Words © Ellie Julings
Artwork © Cara Rooney
||The creative pieces for These Windows were inspired by visits to the V&A Dundee, where writers and artists were given a guided tour of the Scottish Design Galleries followed by an interactive session exploring objects within the SDG handling collection:
|This piece inspired by: Alexander Wilson Book
Alexander Wilson was a Scottish weaver with an interest in poetry, who left Scotland for America and became accomplished in ornithology, eventually publishing a collection of illustrations and descriptions of birds of North America.