As Auld Lang Syne brings Scotland, one and all,
Scotch plaids, Scotch snoods, the blue hills, and clear streams,
The Dee, the Don, Balgounie’s Brig’s black wall,
All my boy feelings, all my gentler dreams
Of what I then dreamt, clothed in their own pall,
Like Banquo’s offspring. Floating past me seems
My childhood in this childishness of mine;
I care not – ’tis a glimpse of Auld Lang Syne.
– Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto X, 18
Monica writes of her quest for her great-great-grandmother Eliza Jenkins née Jay:
I had little idea that in my quest for Eliza I would hunt for a lost mansion near Edinburgh or wander across a medieval bridge in Aberdeen, the childhood haunt of Lord Byron. Nor that Byron would crop up so often in my book. My family never met him, but they definitely knew people who did, one who became a fixture in Brussels for over fifty years.
Eliza’s grandfather on her mother’s side was Alexander Livingston, a merchant who traded between Aberdeen, Rotterdam and Virginia – where some of his family settled. He was made Provost of Aberdeen in the 1750s and bought the nearby estate of Countesswells. One summer’s day I wandered around Aberdeen and along the beach, from the river Dee to the Don. Fog lay clammily heavy over the sea and the dunes. I followed the Don through the shrubbery to the quiet otherworldly Brig o’ Balgownie, the spacious medieval bridge completed for Robert the Bruce, according to legend. It had once been on an important trade route but was now silent.
In Edinburgh I found the first house that Eliza’s family had occupied in 1800, around the corner from Walter Scott’s home. The Jays soon moved to Lixmount House, a mansion that overlooked the Firth of Forth, with Arthur’s Seat to the south. It has long since disappeared, remembered only in street names, but it was a powerful memory for Eliza, who was forced to leave it in the awful year of 1810 when she was thirteen. For her father John Jay, it was a time of prosperity that he achingly remembered even on the wedding day of his eldest daughter fifteen years later.
Charlotte Brontë travelled to Scotland in 1850, visiting Edinburgh and Sir Walter Scott’s house at Abbotsford. Surely Eliza would have told her about her childhood there, and maybe even reminisced about the Scott family.
I did indeed enjoy my trip to Scotland […] The Queen was right indeed to climb Arthur’s Seat with her husband and children; I shall not soon forget how I felt – when – having reached its summit – we all sat down and looked over the city – towards the Sea and Leith, and the Pentland hills.
– Letter from Charlotte Brontë to James Taylor, 5 September 1850
The photos show the misty seashore of Aberdeen on one June day, the Don from the medieval Brig o’ Balgownie, Eliza’s home at 5 North Charlotte Street, Edinburgh, and a welcome glass of wine at the old port of Leith.