I have watched Hornblower one too many times. I’ve always liked the look of small 18th-century seaside towns. Especially those corners by the sea where I would have been too respectable to venture if I had been in my 20s during the Napoleonic wars. I’d have probably got married on a ship to some young naval officer, without my family’s consent and to the absolute horror of my grandmother and the vicar. They just look so dashing in their uniform. The worst part of the film adaptation of Persuasion (likely my favourite Austen novel, to no one’s surprise) starring Rupert Penry-Jones is that he never appears in uniform.
The ships themselves are beautiful. I’ve wanted to build my own miniature of one for years, to look at in the living room since I can’t have a Turner hanging on the wall. Greenwich has to be one of my favourite parts of London for this reason. It feels like being on holiday, with the beautiful classical buildings and the Thames being the extraordinary river that it is. It’s also in the East, so it does feel like you are travelling out of town to get there if you live in the West and South West.
One of the perks of researching the early British Empire is that you get to spend time in a place like the Caird Library, and stroll around the collection at the National Maritime Museum when you really can’t sit down anymore. The collection includes the last clothes worn by Lord Nelson at Trafalgar. Relics of a secular saint. Daydreamers like me can’t help but feel like they took a step back in time when walking down the porch, up the hill, the sun playing around in the mist on a warm November afternoon. Scenes that quiet the most unsettled spirits
And I know something about unsettled spirits, having been one myself for as long as I can remember. A Marianne Dashwood, one of those girls who would have fallen madly in love with a Jean-Jacques Rousseau after reading La Nouvelle Heloïse. Someone who is in fact madly in love with Alexander Pope’s verses on the original one, and the letters between the two great minds of Medieval Christendom.
Trying to quiet my spirits, I have been on a retreat studying an American saint I didn’t know about: Elizabeth Ann Seton. She loved nature, poetry, and music and was inclined to contemplation as much as involved in charitable work. To quote Anne of Green Gables, a kindred spirit. Patron saint of the seafarers, if we couldn’t be any more similar. I’ve recently discovered Oceans from Hillsong United hidden in a Spotify playlist from Walsingham, and I can’t stop listening to it. Fear and hope, in an embrace. Perhaps there is a reason why the sea has always meant so much to me, even if I have never lived by it.
Your grace abounds in deepest waters.