An intellectual’s scrap screen

The scrap screen created by Jane Carlyle in 1849, in the drawing room at 24 Cheyne Row. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Alan Carroll’s recent mention of print rooms reminded me of the scrap screen created by Jane Carlyle at Carlyle’s House in Cheyne Row, London. Jane was the wife of the Victorian critic and historian Thomas Carlyle, but she was also a lively intellectual in her own right.

©NTPL/John Hammond

The prints on the screen seem to be mainly of famous places, famous works of art and famous people – perhaps an echo of Thomas’s interest in ‘great men’ as expressed in his later book  On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History.

The front door of 24 Cheyne Row. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Thomas and Jane Carlyle moved to London in 1834 and settled in then unfashionable Chelsea, where they would remain for the rest of their lives.

The back dining room in a watercolour by Helen Allingham, 1881. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Carlyles received many of the leading lights of the day at their house, including Dickens, Tennyson, Browning, Thackeray, Ruskin and Darwin.

Intellectual flowers? Detail of the wallpaper in the parlour. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Carlyles’ marriage was often difficult, although they retained an affection for one another.

Jane Carlyle. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Thomas Carlyle was an important nineteenth-century thinker who criticised the then commonplace worship of progress, although his nihilism made him an isolated figure. Jane is regarded as one of the most witty and observant letter writers in the English language.

The house and its contents, including the Carlyles’  furniture, books, portraits and personal relics were given to the National Trust by the Carlyle’s House Memorial Trust in 1936.

7 Responses to “An intellectual’s scrap screen”

  1. Guy Says:

    I often wonder why we don’t see more of these fanlight lanterns in London.

    Amsterdam seems to be their spiritual home, with a vast array of versions from glass tubes to tole fantasies.

    NB Beware googling ‘Doors of Amsterdam’!

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks for that observation, Guy – and for the warning :)

  3. littleaugury Says:

    Of course this is right up my path, I am very intrigued by all the ephemera saved especially by women of this period and this screen is wonderful. It is a time capsule blog of sorts! I just received the long awaited book Cecil Beaton’s Scrapbook- it is another precursor to the blogs of today- full of what captivated in every magazine known at the time-You would really enjoy perusing it. I even did one when I was about 20- so wish I had done something more of the 80’s rather than trying to capture the Victorian period-oh well, my Youth.
    Also interesting is the admiration Oscar Wilde held for Carlyle. He had visited as a child with his mother and had read his works and had acquired Carlyle’s writing desk for his own. And so it goes.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Gaye, what an apposite description: a scrap screen as a ‘blog’. And by extension you could describe those ‘print rooms’, with prints pasted onto the walls in decorative patterns, as blogs avant la lettre as well.

    And I am probably getting carried away now, but in that sense you could even call the Japanese medieval linked poem genre (renga), where different people would keep adding bits to the poem, a kind of blog as well.

    So when exactly is something a ‘blog’? When it is associative? When it is a composite work? When it has an episodic structure? Thought-provoking stuff.

    Interesting too that Wilde admired Carlyle – I suppose he liked his anti-progress, exclusivist stance.

  5. Hels Says:

    I think a collection of memories and connections is fantastic, in a book or, even better, on an exposed piece of furniture like the Carlyle’s screen. And I am delighted it was not just of “our holidays by the sea”; rather that it was mainly of famous places and people, and their creative output. And who would be in a better position to do it than the woman who entertained Tennyson, Browning and Ruskin in her own dining room.

    So I feel petty saying this, but it always makes me sad when Victorian women of prodigious intellect watched and recorded Life from inside their house, rather than taking part in it outside their house. Think of women painters who could only paint tea parties and mother-baby portraits in their lounge room because they weren’t allowed out alone to do landscapes and cityscapes.

  6. Linda Young Says:

    It’s time the apostrophe was shifted right in the name of 24 Cheyne Walk: it should be the Carlyles’ House, or Thomas and Jane Carlyle’s House. This is one of the small ways we can recognise that women lived in famous men’s houses too – specially when they’re Famous Women!

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Helen, yes it is clearly an ‘intellectual’ scrap screen, very different from, for instance, the much more whimsical one at Calke Abbey (http://nttreasurehunt.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/calke-abbey-revisited/). As you say, one of its themes seems to be ‘creativity’. It would be interesting to do a little comparative study of scrap screens, to see what they reveal about their creators.

    And yes Jane Carlyle’s options were restricted during her lifetime, but her stock has risen after her death, whereas Thomas Carlyle’s has fallen after his.

    Linda, I somehow thought that the name of the house had been changed to ‘The Carlyles’ House’, but it hasn’t – I will find out if there are plans to change it.

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