I have been somewhat obsessed with the eccentric figure of Walking Stewart for a number of years, since first encountering him in some dusty library, at the unpopular end of De Quincey’s “Collected Works”.
A strange, liminal figure, Stewart seems to stalk the margins of the Nineteenth Century, his own, multitudinous, works forgotten, but his footsteps echoing through the recollections of his contemporaries. I’ve wanted to do something with him for ages.
One of the odd qualities attributed to Stewart was his ubiquity: a perceived ability to be in more than one place at a time. Following a lifetime of walking across the known world, his final years in London were spent in seemingly unending peregrinations across the city, and more than one commentator recorded encountering him in impossible positions: sat steadfast upon Westminster Bridge, and minutes later, as steadfast upon a bench in St James’ Park. De Quincey himself records passing him at Somerset House, and then overtaking him again on Tottenham Court Road – despite having taken the shortest route through Covent Garden.
Drawing upon OpenStreetMap, styled with Cloudmade to resemble antique atlases, I collected these routes and anecdotes, and present them here in newspaper form. But the newspaper is a foldable, pliable thing, just as Stewart himself seemed to fold the cityscape around himself. And so we have maps that can fold upon themselves to delineate not only the narrator’s journey, but that of Stewart himself. Folded correctly, the maps reveal how Stewart breaks the margins of the map to travel, invisibly, through space and time.
There is also an introductory essay – a meditation on ubiquity, immanence and time travel, drawing on Stewart’s life, Jewish mysticism, Deleuzian metaphysics and special relativity – together with selected quotes and sources.
The first edition of the newspaper is produced in a limited run of five copies. Following investigation and use, there may be a second edition at some future point in time – or space…
Beavers – the aquatic, tree-felling, dam-building rodent – are currently being reintroduced to Scotland, as related in a long article in this Sunday’s Observer, and not without controversy. The article’s author, Tim Adams, notes that the anti-Beaver parties might take their rallying cry from Robert Burns’ 1792 call to arms Cock up yer Beaver.
A beaver in this context refers of course to a hat, probably but not exclusively made from beaver pelt. Burns’ air is an exhortation to the brave Johnie to set such a hat straight and have a go at the English, but it more than raises a smile on a grey Monday morning, whichever way you take it.
Cock Up Yer Beaver
When first my brave Johnie lad came to this town,
He had a blue bonnet that wanted the crown,
But now he has gotten a hat and a feather –
Hey, brave Johnie lad, cock up yer beaver!
Cock up your beaver, and cock it fu’ sprush!
We’ll over the border and gie them a brush:
There’s somebody there we’ll teach better behavior –
Hey, brave Johnie lad, cock up yer beaver!
I was recently listening to Thomas d’Urfey‘s The Comical History of Don Quixote and one song in particular caught my ear. d’Urfey’s rather imaginative adaptation of Cervantes’ novel – think of Michael Winterbottom’s Cock & Bull Story as it emerges from Tristram Shandy – was originally performed in 1694 and comprises dialogue interspersed with songs by Henry Purcell, whose instrumental pieces I know reasonably well, but whose songs are a different matter entirely.
“The Anti-French Song”, as it is referred to in the play, was very much a staple of the time, and, again as in the play, was usually paired with a pro-British one – in this case, it’s swiftly followed by the even more patriotic “Genius of England”. But what makes the song rather wonderful is that it manages to combine England’s natural xenophobia with an explicit rejection of racism, running straight from Little Englander rallying-cry (“leave the cheese and wine on the beach and bugger orf”) to a celebration of miscegenation.
So, here’s an MP3 which you can listen to with the following player, and I’ve had a go at transcribing the lyrics below – with a few gaps if anyone can help me fill them in, or correct me. Enjoy!
You can never trust a Frenchman
You can never trust a Frenchman,
Nor any of their henchmen,
Or Germans or Dutch
Or the Belgians and such,
They’re as bad as lawyers and benchmen.
The grubby Europeans,
Sing their own praise in paeans,
But the Channel is wide
Let them stay on their side,
Where they’ve been for countless aeons.
Their language sounds like twitter,
All lips and teeth and squitter,
Their cheese and their wine
May be all of very fine.
But you can’t beat English bitter.
And French sophistication,
Just gives you constipation,
When they murmur amour
We are all dead sure
They’re the world’s least sexy nation.
So let us raise our glasses,
As England’s glory passes,
And to middle-class prats,
And the glorious working classes.
The Scotsman has his sporran,
Snug in his Glasgow warren,
And the Welshman’s a lad
And the Irish are mad,
But none of us is foreign.
So praise our bastard nation,
An incredible creation,
Of Latins and Celts
And Saxons that melts
Into pure miscegenation.
And Welcome other races,
With different shades of faces,
Come and join in the song,
Sing it with us so long
As the French stay in their places!