It was the muddiest fiasco since the flooding Avon put paid, just seventy years earlier, to Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee extravaganza at Stratford. In 1839 the 26-year-old Earl of Eglinton held at his Scottish estate a magnificent chivalric entertainment, complete with chain-mailed jousters on caparisoned horses, a court of noble women attending the Queen of Beauty, and all the pageantry and bloodless combat proper to Medieval entertainment. The cream of society was invited and spent a huge sum outfitting itself. On the opening day the road to Eglinton was clogged for thirty miles as 100,000 commoners (it was said) gathered to watch Scott's romances brought to life. But within a few hours a raging storm sent them slogging homeward through morasses of mud, and the blue-blooded cast and audience, their Medieval hair-dos now sodden and lank, retreated into marquees that leaked water at every crevice. The next day, the torrent continuing, the knights tilted with mops and broomsticks in the waterlogged ballroom. The press had a field day of its own. In that year of severe depression, with the clouds of Chartism steadily darkening, the nation could do with a spot of comic relief, especially in the form of the aristocracy making expensive fools of themselves.
LRB 3 December 1981 | PDF Download