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- Christmas at Abbotsford
THE CHINESE DRAWING ROOM
Evening leisure-pursuits at Abbotsford were centred on the drawing room. When there were no guests, the ladies of the house would adjourn to this room for conversation, reading and needlework.
At other times Sir Walter Scott’s eldest daughter Sophia would play the harp, and songs and recitations were common after-dinner entertainments.
Dora Wordsworth described one of the last evenings that Scott spent in the drawing room:
‘In the evening Mr. and Mrs. Liddell sang, and Mrs. Lockhart chanted old ballads to her harp, and Mr. Allan hung over the back of a chair, told and acted odd stories in a humorous way… Sir Walter was much amused’.
The comic actor and ventriloquist Charles Mathews was another visitor, and according to Scott’s butler William Dalgleish ‘there was not a night during his stay but he was at work, which keepet the house in an uproar of laffter’. Scott was not especially musical but he loved the old Scottish songs and ballads and Sophia had a large repertoire of these to keep her father entertained. Scott’s younger daughter Anne may even have been a little jealous. ‘Sophia really is too much with her harp’, she complained in one letter.
Scott had a liking for technology and fitted his home with many modern comforts. Abbotsford, for instance, was one of the first buildings in Scotland to be lit by gas. It was generated by an onsite gas plant installed at the house by James Milne in 1823. Scott was chairman of the Edinburgh Oil Gas Company, and had ready access to cutting edge expertise. Flanking the fireplace are two air-bells for summoning servants. Scott described the bells as working on ‘the true pop-gun principle’. This consisted of a plunger, which pushed compressed air through a narrow tube that descended to the basement, where it forced out the stopper and rang a bell in the servants’ quarters.
The beautiful wallpaper was hand-painted in China and was a gift from Scott’s cousin Hugh Scott, who worked for the East India Company. The ebony chairs were purchased for Scott in London by the actor and theatre impresario Daniel Terry. The great portrait above the fireplace shows Scott with his dogs Camp and Percy seated in the landscape with the valley of Yarrow behind him. It was painted by Sir Henry Raeburn in 1809 following the publication of Scott’s poem Marmion in 1808.