Contributor: Barbara Schaff
Location: Edinburgh, Writers’ Museum
Description: These slippers were gifted to Sir Walter Scott in 1830 by a friend, Lady Honoria Louisa Cadogan, and her two daughters Augusta Sarah and Honoria Louisa. Like Byron’s and Shelley’s locks of hair, Walter Scott’s slippers are objects which point to the physicality of their owners. They are also signifiers for the appreciation and devotion invested in a revered male Romantic author. When Lady Cadogan and her daughters visited Scott in his home, Abbotsford, in the Borders, they were appalled at the state of his footwear – perhaps Scott’s appearance reminded them of the description of the unkempt Minister Josiah Cargill in St Ronan’s Well (1823), “whose feet were thrust into old slipshod shoes which served him instead of slippers”. Back home, Lady Cadogan’s daughters crafted spectacular slippers for him, allegedly using a centuries’ old tartar design going back to Ghengis Khan which had come through Lady Cadogan’s family. The slippers were sent to Scott with the following note: ‘The only thing we did not admire at Abbotsford was a (pair) of ugly, uncomfortable slippers we saw in (your) study so my daughters hope you will replace them by theirs.’ (https://www.historyscotland.com/news/sir-walter-scotts-slippers-go-on-display-at-the-writers-museum-in/)
Shoes are, in contrast to writers’ pens, desks, chairs, inkstands and so on, mundane objects which bear no evident relation to the creative process. That they were preserved in this case is not due to a unique inherent quality of their own but to the aura of their owner. Simply because they belonged to the then most famous British novelist, they were not thrown away after his death but quickly reached a status as collectable objects (some years ago, they sold for 3000 GBP at an auction). The longevity of writer’s objects, one can argue, is always connected with his (and very rarely her) cultural status during his lifetime. The chance of survival of author’s belongings rises if they achieve a status as auratic objects during the writer’s lifetime. And, of course, it also depends on an author’s secure material rootedness in a family home. In Scott’s case, Abbotsford remained in the family until the twenty-first century, providing ample space for the preservation of his material legacy. In regard to the preservation of Scott’s slippers, however, a second, gender-political aspect comes to mind which hinges on the fact that the slippers had been made by two dutiful daughters. With their handcraft, the women had literally positioned themselves at Scott’s feet – emphasizing a gendered hierarchy between the author-genius and his devotees, and metonymically confirming the role of the nurturing, caregiving, protecting female. This narrative is supported by the former curator of the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum, Gillian Findlay: “Scott’s slippers tell such a human story of the need for creature comforts and the compassion the author inspired in his friends, particularly at this vulnerable moment towards the end of his life. He was still mourning the loss of his wife and struggling to make ends meet since the banking crisis of 1825. He had received advances on books he hadn’t written yet but a kind friend took pity on him and had these slippers made as a gift.” (https://www.historyscotland.com/news/sir-walter-scotts-slippers-go-on-display-at-the-writers-museum-in/).
Date: around 1830
Creator: Augusta Sarah and Honoria Louisa Cadogan
Subject: Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
Media rights: © Ethnographic Collection of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (Oz 1522). Photographer: Harry Haase.
Object type: shoes
Format: wool, leather
Publisher: © City of Edinburgh Council