Thursday, 17 March 2016

Lord Frederick Hamilton: The Days Before Yesterday

The following extract comes from The Days Before Yesterday, published in 1920, written by Lord Frederick Spencer Hamilton (1856-1928), Tory politician, career diplomat and Anglo-Scottish peer.  Although it contains no supernatural data, it gives a picture about the atmosphere of Glamis castle and its inhabitants in the late Victorian era:

Whenever I returned home on leave, whether from Berlin, Petrograd, Lisbon, or Buenos Ayres, I invariably spent a portion of my leave at Glamis Castle. This venerable pile, "whose birth tradition notes not," though the lower portions were undoubtedly standing in 1016, rears its forest of conical turrets in the broad valley lying between the Grampians and the Sidlaws, in the fertile plains of Forfarshire. Apart from the prestige of its immense age, Glamis is one of the most beautiful buildings in the Three Kingdoms. The exquisitely weathered tints of grey-pink and orange that its ancient red sandstone walls have taken on with the centuries, its many gables and towers rising in summer-time out of a sea of greenery, the richness of its architectural details, make Glamis a thing apart. There is nothing else quite like it. No more charming family can possibly be imagined than that of the late Lord Strathmore, forty years ago. The seven sons and three daughters of the family were all born musicians. I have never heard such perfect and finished part-singing as that of the Lyon family, and they were always singing: on the way to a cricket-match; on the road home from shooting; in the middle of dinner, even, this irrepressible family could not help bursting into harmony, and such exquisite harmony, too! Until their sisters grew up, the younger boys sang the treble and alto parts, but finally they were able to manage a male-voice quartet, a trio of ladies' voices, and a combined family octette. The dining-room at Glamis is a very lofty hall, oak-panelled, with a great Jacobean chimney-piece rising to the roof. After dinner it was the custom for the two family pipers to make the circuit of the table three times, and then to walk slowly off, still playing, through the tortuous stone passages of the ancient building until the last faint echoes of the music had died away. Then all the lights in the dining-room were extinguished except the candles on the table, and out came a tuning-fork, and one note was sounded—"Madrigal," "Spring is Come, third beat," said the conducting brother, and off they went, singing exquisitely; glees, madrigals, part-songs, anything and everything, the acoustic properties of the lofty room adding to the effect. All visitors to Glamis were charmed with this most finished singing—always, of course, without accompaniment. They sang equally well in the private chapel, giving admirable renderings of the most intricate "Services," and, from long practice together, their voices blended perfectly. This gifted family were equally good at acting. They had a permanent stage during the winter months at Glamis, and as every new Gilbert and Sullivan opera was produced in London, the concerted portions were all duly repeated at Glamis, and given most excellently. I have never heard the duet and minuet between "Sir Marmaduke" and "Lady Sangazure" from The Sorcerer better done than at Glamis, although Sir Marmaduke was only nineteen, and Lady Sangazure, under her white wig, was a boy of twelve. The same boy sang "Mabel" in the Pirates of Penzance most admirably.

Lord Frederick Hamilton

In 1884 it was conveyed to Lord Strathmore that Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, whom he did not know personally, were most anxious to see Glamis. Of course an invitation was at once dispatched, and in spite of the rigorously Tory atmosphere of the house, we were all quite charmed with Mr. Gladstone's personality. Lord Strathmore wished to stop the part-singing after dinner, but I felt sure that Mr. Gladstone would like it, so it took place as usual. The old gentleman was perfectly enchanted with it, and complimented this tuneful family enthusiastically on the perfect finish of their singing. Next evening Mr. Gladstone asked for a part-song in the middle of dinner, and as the singing was continued in the drawing-room afterwards, he went and, with a deferential courtesy charming to see in a man of his age and position, asked whether the young people would allow an old man to sing bass in the glees with them. Mr. Gladstone still had a very fine resonant bass, and he read quite admirably. It was curious to see the Prime Minister reading off the same copy as an Eton boy of sixteen, who was singing alto. Being Sunday night, they went on singing hymns and anthems till nearly midnight; there was no getting Mr. Gladstone away. Mrs. Gladstone told me next day that he had not enjoyed himself so much for many months.
There was a blend of simplicity, dignity, and kindliness in Mrs. Gladstone's character that made her very attractive. My family were exceedingly fond of her, and though two of my brothers were always attacking Mr. Gladstone in the most violent terms, this never strained their friendly relations with Mrs. Gladstone herself. I always conjure up visions of Mrs. Gladstone in her sapphire-blue velvet, her invariable dress of ceremony. Though a little careless as to her appearance, she always looked a "great lady," and her tall figure, and the kindly old face with its crown of silvery hair, were always welcomed in the houses of those privileged to know her.
The Lyon family could do other things besides singing and acting. The sons were all excellent shots, and were very good at games. One brother was lawn-tennis champion of Scotland, whilst another, with his partner, won the Doubles Championship of England.
Glamis is the oldest inhabited house in Great Britain. As Shakespeare tells us in Macbeth,
"This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself Unto our gentle senses."
The vaulted crypt was built before 1016, and another ancient stone-flagged, stone-vaulted hall leading out of it is the traditional scene of the murder of Duncan by Macbeth, the "Thane of Glamis." In a room above it King Malcolm II. of Scotland was murdered in 1034. The castle positively teems with these agreeable traditions. The staircases and their passages are stone-walled, stone-roofed, and stone-floored, and their flags are worn into hollows by the feet which have trodden them for so many centuries. Unusual features are the secret winding staircases debouching in the most unexpected places, and a well in the front hall, which doubtless played a very useful part during the many sieges the castle sustained in the old days. The private chapel is a beautiful little place of worship, with eighty painted panels of Scriptural subjects by De Witt, the seventeenth-century Dutch artist, and admirable stained glass. The Castle, too, is full of interesting historical relics. It boasts the only remaining Fool's dress of motley in the kingdom; Prince Charlie's watch and clothes are still preserved there, for the Prince, surprised by the Hanoverian troops at Glamis, had only time to jump on a horse and escape, leaving all his belongings behind him. There is a wonderful collection of old family dresses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and above all there is the very ancient silver-gilt cup, "The Lion of Glamis," which holds an entire bottle of wine, and on great family occasions is still produced and used as a loving-cup, circulating from hand to hand round the table. Walter Scott in a note to Waverly states that it was the "Lion of Glamis" cup which gave him the idea of the "Blessed Bear of Bradwardine." In fact, there is no end to the objects of interest this wonderful old castle contains, and the Lyon family have inhabited it for six hundred years in direct line from father to son.
It is difficult for me to write impartially about Glamis, for it is as familiar to me as my own home. I have been so much there, and have received such kindness within its venerable walls, that it can never be to me quite as other places are. I can see vast swelling stretches of purple heather, with the dainty little harebells all a-quiver in the strong breeze sweeping over the grouse-butts, as a brown mass of whirling wings rushes past at the pace of an express train, causing one probably to reflect how well-nigh impossible it is to "allow" too much for driven grouse flying down-wind. I can picture equally vividly the curling-pond in winter-time, tuneful with the merry chirrup of the curling-stones as they skim over the ice, whilst cries of "Soop her up, man, soop! Soop!" from the anxious "skip" fill the keen air. I like best, though, to think of the Glamis of my young days, when the ancient stone-built passages and halls, that have seen so many generations pass through them and disappear, rang with perpetual youthful laughter, or echoed beautifully finished part-singing; when nimble young feet twinkled, and kilts whirled to the skirl of the pipes under the vaulted roof of the nine-hundred-year-old crypt; when the whole place was vibrant with joyous young life, and the stately, grey-bearded owner of the historic castle, and of many broad acres in Strathmore besides, found his greatest pleasure in seeing how happy his children and his guests could be under his roof.

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