Here we are at the top of Beechen Cliff at last!
My own painting of the scene at Beechen Cliff shows Catherine Morland, Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor admiring the view from the top. Henry is pointing to a view in the distance and probably using terms like 'backgrounds' and 'foregrounds', 'middle distances' and 'picturesque' etc. about which, Catherine doesn't know very much. Picturesque, meaning literally 'fit to be made into a picture' was a popular term and pursuit in Jane Austen's day as her contemporaries roamed the countryside in search of 'beautiful and sublime' scenery. Jane Austen is having her own little bit of fun here when she describes how eagerly Catherine latches onto these new ideas, so much so, that she dismisses the whole of Bath as being unworthy of a decent view. There's more on this further down the post.
Well, here are some of the photos that we took after we got to the top of Jacob's ladder. The views over Bath are spectacular and well worth the climb. In the first photo you can see the Royal Crescent, that elegant curve of houses in front of which the Crescent fields provided a popular promenade in Jane's day. The second photo shows a glimpse down onto the Kennet and Avon canal, the third photo shows Camden Place where Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion took a house, and photo four shows a view over Bath with the Abbey still prominent but perhaps not looking quite so majestic as in earlier scenes. Click here for an old print showing the view of Bath from Beechen Cliff in times gone by.
Here's a little more of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland is a little out of her depth when Henry and his sister start talking about the principles of the picturesque and which views would be suitable for drawing. They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing — nothing of taste: and she listened to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her. The little which she could understand, however, appeared to contradict the very few notions she had entertained on the matter before. It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day. She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well–informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.
The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl have been already set forth by the capital pen of a sister author; and to her treatment of the subject I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance. But Catherine did not know her own advantages — did not know that a good–looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless circumstances are particularly untoward. In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side–screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence.
We followed the canal on our way home and so I've included a couple more photos to show you. I love to see the backs of the houses and their beautiful gardens almost tumbling down into the water itself. Halfway along we found a little kiosk serving tea and ice cream, but after a short stop, the clouds were gathering and rain threatened. We just got to the Pulteney Arms in time for a wonderful Sunday lunch as the heavens opened. There cannot be many nicer ways to spend a Sunday in Bath!