Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Favourite Place:

Merlyn's room, from T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone. I must have been seven or eight when I first read this, and straightway I decided I Needed A Room Exactly Like This When I Grew Up. I read it over and over, and sometimes even out loud, as if I were reading a spell. Just like magical incantations, it was full of nonsense words, barbarous words. At least, it was for tiny Pluvialis. What did the writing under the salmon and fox mean? What was 'sensationalism'? What was Satsuma and Cloisonné? How did you even say Cloisonné? What was an oleander? What, indeed, was two and six? Such deep mysteries....

I didn't realise that it was funny until much, much, much later.

There was a real corkindrill hanging from the rafters, very lifelike and horrible with glass eyes and scaly tail stretched out behind it. When its master came into the room it winked one eye in salutation, although it was stuffed. There were hundreds of thousands of brown books in leather bindings, some chained to the bookshelves and others propped up against each other as if they had had too much spirits to drink and did not really trust themselves. These gave out a scent of must and solid brownness which was most secure. Then there were stuffed birds, popinjays, and maggot-pies and kingfishers, and peacocks with all their feathers but two, and tiny birds like beetles, and a reputed phoenix which smelt of incense and cinnamon. It could not have been a real phoenix, because there is only one of these at a time. Over the mantlepiece there was a fox's mask, with GRAFTON, BUCKINGHAM TO DAVENTRY, 2HRS 20MINS written under it, and also a forty-pound salmon with AWE, 43 MIN., BULLDOG written under it, and a very lifelike basilisk with CROWHURST OTTER HOUNDS in Roman print. There were several boar's tusks and the claws of tigers and libbards mounted in symmetrical patterns, and a big head of Ovis Poli, six live grass snakes in a kind of aquarium, some nests of the solitary wasp nicely set up in a glass cylinder, an ordinary bee-hive whose inhabitants went in and out of the window unmolested, two young hedgehogs in cotton wool, a pair of badgers which immediately began to cry Yik-Yik-Yik-Yik in loud voices as soon as the magician appeared, twenty boxes which contained stick caterpillars and sixths of the puss moth, and even an oleander that was worth two and six, all feeding on the appropriate leaves, a gun-case with all sorts of weapons which would not be invented for half a thousand years, a rod-box ditto, a lovely chest of drawers full of salmon flies which had been tied by Merlyn himself, another chest whose drawers were labelled Mandragora, Mandrake, Old Man's Beard, etc., a bunch of turkey feathers and goosequills for making pens, an astrolabe, twelve pairs of boots, a dozen purse-nets, three dozen rabbit wires, twelve cork-screws, an ant's nest between two glass plates, ink bottles of every possible colour from red to violet, darning needles, a gold medal for being the best scholar at Eton, four or five recorders, a nest of field-mice all alive-o, two skulls, plenty of cut glass, Venetian glass, Bristol glass and a bottle of Mastic varnish, some satusma china and some cloisonné, the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (marred as it was by the sensationalism of the popular plates), two paint-boxes (one oil, one water-colour), three globes of the known geographical world, a few fossils, the stuffed head of a camel-leopard, six pismires, some glass retorts with cauldrons, bunsen burners, etc., and a complete set of cigarette cards depicting wildfowl by Sir Peter Scott.
I've not quite got the room yet, though I have, or have had, many of the things in it . How many things have you had?

1 comment:

Quills said...

I don't quite know why I am leaving comments considering that they probably will never be read. I suppose I want to mull over "H is for Hawk" a while longer despite finishing the book, so reading and responding to the blog is one way to do that. My husband and I have quite a number of items from Merlyn's room. We easily have 12 pairs of boots considering that I don't always throw out the slightly leaky wellies. We have lots of goose and swan quills along with a few turkey feathers. There are dozens of bottles of ink cluttered near one desk in shades from red to violet and many variations on black. It felt like we have hundreds of thousands of books when we unpacked them after the last move. They are somewhat musty, but sadly only a small portion are leather bound. We do not have tiger claws, but in their place we have saved some shed claws from our domestic cats and a few shed rooster spurs as well. A glass box contains a preserved beetle that is bigger than a hummingbird. Assorted weapons from various periods are propped up in places, and you are sure to come across a few more odd weapons if looking in a storage bench or closet. We have a couple of fossils, a cloisonee egg, paint boxes, an astrolabe and darning needles. We have a small welding torch rather than Bunsen burners. We have one human skull in a leather bound box that has been on long term loan from medical school. (Maybe we should give it back or else one far off day our heirs will have to decide what to do with it.) There is probably a live mouse nest in the barn, but I can't claim ownership since they were not really invited to build their nest there.